Five reasons for the power shift in women’s handball in Scandinavia
Ahead of the season, not many people would probably have expected the coming Sunday’s match between Team Esbjerg and Larvik to be a meeting between top and bottom in Group D of the Women’s EHF Champions League – and definitely not with Larvik as the team on the bottom with zero points.
Still, this is the case before the Scandinavian derby in Esbjerg Sunday afternoon.
Esbjerg are on top with four points after their two matches, while Larvik have got an unusually poor start to the group matches with two defeats.
The power balance in women’s handball in Scandinavia seems to have tipped, maybe only temporarily, maybe permanently.
During the past six years – ever since Danish Viborg HK won the Women’s Champions League for the third time in 2010 – Larvik have been the dominating women’s club in Scandinavia.
In 2011, they won the Champions League, and since then, the Norwegian club has not done any worse than the quarter-final.
So far, Larvik’s dominance seems to have been broken by Team Esbjerg.
There are five reasons for this change. Three of them relate to Esbjerg, two to Larvik.
1. Esbjerg’s coach
Since 2011, Lars Frederiksen has been head coach in Team Esbjerg, and it had five years of almost uninterrupted progress and development in the team.
This spring, he performed his masterpiece so far by taking the team to its first Danish championship in history, and this season, he has led his team to an impressive debut in the Champions League group matches with a 35:25 win at home against RK Krim Mercator and a 25:20 away victory against IK Sävehof.
From his experience as a player as well as a coach, 46-year-old Frederiksen knows what it is all about.
As an uncompromising defender in KIF Kolding, he harvested plenty of Champions League experience in his playing days, and in his first coaching job, he took the Danish women’s league team KIF Vejen to the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup in 2011 and to the Champions League qualifiers the following season.
In Esbjerg, he has continued where he left off in Vejen. With his tactical skills and his way of making his players believe in themselves and each other, he has already brought Team Esbjerg far.
2. Esbjerg’s goalkeepers
How often have we not heard that the goalkeeper is half of a handball team?
It this is true, at least half of the Esbjerg team is very strong.
With two Scandinavian internationals, the team is extremely well equipped between the goalposts.
Norwegian Emily Stang Sando and Swedish Filippa Idéhn are not only goalkeepers at an internationally very high level.
The also feed off each other well, and as they are on pretty much the same level, one can almost also take over, if the other one has a bad day – which seldom happens.
3. The Dutch backs
One of Team Esbjerg’s strongest assets is their backcourt line.
This was very clearly emphasised in the away win against Sävehof last Sunday, where the three backcourt players Laura van der Heijden, Jenny Alm and Estavana Polman scored 22 of Esbjerg’s 25 goals.
Among the backcourt players, the Dutch internationals van der Heijden and Polman have caught the eye in particular.
So far, van der Heijden has drawn most attention in the Champions League, of course, with being top scorer in the group matches so far with 20 goals.
However, you should not be mistaken about Polman either.
Actually a left back, she is mainly being used as playmaker by coach Frederiksen, but she also fills out this role very well, and in great cooperation with her national teammate van der Heijden, she forms a deadly dangerous duo from the distance.
4. Nora Mørk
An important reason why Larvik have not yet shown the strength from previous years is a player who is no longer with them.
Nobody was probably in doubt that Nora Mørk’s transfer to Györ Audi ETO would be a big loss for Larvik.
Until now, however, the loss seems to have been even bigger than expected.
Those who were supposed to take over from Mørk have not really been able to do so, and the 25-year-old Norwegian international has left a huge gap, not only in the right back position, but in the Larvik team in general.
5. Lack of depth in the Larvik squad
Larvik’s head coach Tor Odvar Moen does not have as many players to pick from anymore as he used to.
Part of his current problems are temporary, as they are due to injuries, but the bottom line is that the Larvik squad is not as deep as it once way.
This is partly due to financial problems in the past still casting their shadow over the club, and the best example is probably the fact that Larvik have not managed to sign a replacement for above mentioned Nora Mørk.
Of course, Larvik may still win in Esbjerg on Sunday. This is very possible, in fact.
Still, this will not change the fact that the power balance in Scandinavia has tipped, at least for the time being.
Right now, Team Esbjerg are the queens of Scandinavian club handball.