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Five talking points after the M20 EHF EURO 2022

20221106 AH 3577 2 EHF / Adrian Costeiu

After 56 games and 3,354 goals, Spain are the new M20 EHF EURO champions after a nail-biting 37:35 win against Portugal in the final. Spain secured their third M20 EHF EURO trophy in the highest-scoring final in the competition. 

But what are the main takes after a tournament where the brightest young stars in men's handball shone over the past 11 days?

Flawless attack and depth lift Spain to the title

Seven games are required to seal the gold medal at the M20 EHF EURO, with any missteps providing a huge cost for the losing sides. For Spain, it looked like their path to the title was barred by hosts Portugal, who secured a 36:35 win in the preliminary round after a high-octane match.

But Spain showed an insurmountable desire to leave the tournament with the gold medal around their necks. A four-game winning streak quickly ensued, with their outstanding attack, the best in the competition's history judging by their output, carrying the load.

While two of Spain's players made the All-Star team, right wing Antonio Martínez and line player Javier Rodriguez, it was their sheer depth and the adaptability of their back line that decided the final.

Bruno Reguart and Jan Gurri combined 15 goals in the astonishing comeback against Portugal in the final. Although Spain constantly changed players, their level stayed more or less the same. An average of 36.4 goals per game is something teams can only dream of, but Spain did it with relative ease, posting totals of 41, 40, 38, 37, 35 and twice 32 goals scored at the M20 EHF EURO 2022.

With three M20 EHF EURO titles (2012, 2016 and 2022), two EHF EURO titles (2018 and 2020), a bronze medal at the M18 EHF EURO in 2014 and another bronze with this generation at the M19 EHF EURO 2021, it has been a good decade to be a Spain fan.

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Hosts' amazing tournament ends in disappointment

Portugal have been here once before, in 2010, when they lost the title in a straightforward manner against Denmark, 30:24. But this feels even harsher and more difficult to grasp. It is not that they lost on the home court, in front of their fans, but the lingering feeling is that the nine-minute scoreless stint that turned the final on its head could have been avoided.

Indeed, Portugal paid for their lack of depth after using their back trio – Francisco Mota da Costa, Andre Sousa and Martim Mota da Costa – until the final minutes. They also failed to take more risks, while their goalkeepers did not save a shot until the 26th minute. These games are decided in the fine print, the small details.

However, it is not all doom and gloom for Portugal. This generation must be celebrated, nurtured and introduced slowly at the senior level. Francisco Mota da Costa and Martim Mota da Costa, who made the All-Star team here, have already made their debut on the biggest of stages.

Portugal have a bright future in handball and will probably become a stable powerhouse in the near future. And who else wants to see more of Francisco Mota da Costa after this amazing tournament? He scored 58 goals in seven games, despite not featuring prominently in the match against Hungary. Basically, he averaged 9.7 goals per game over six matches and scored 11 goals, while still providing some outrageous assists, in the final. The talent is pure; it just needs to be nurtured.

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Outstanding attacks ensure medals

Over the same number of matches, the M20 EHF EURO 2022 recorded an uptick of 253 goals over the previous edition, held in Slovenia in 2018, as the average number of goals per game jumped from 55.4 to 59.9, roughly 4.5 goals per game higher.

In a tournament where attacks ruled the court, Spain and Portugal provided the highest-scoring final in history, with 72 goals, nine goals more than the record set in 2000, when Yugoslavia and Belarus combined for 63 goals. The two finalists also boasted the best attacks in the competition, being responsible for 486 goals, or 14.4 per cent of the goals scored at the M20 EHF EURO 2022.

As for the top scorer, Francisco Mota da Costa, he ranks third by number of goals scored between the players who received that award in the last 10 editions of the competition. Estonia's Mait Patrail is still the record holder, after putting 83 goals on the board in 2008, while Switzerland's Lenny Rubin scored 71 goals in 2016.

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But did defences cope?

Yet defences took the lion's share too in the competition. While Serbia did not have the same free-flowing attack as Spain or Portugal, they still secured the first bronze medal in their history, after a 30:26 win against Sweden. While Serbia boasted the MVP of the competition, Stefan Dodic, and a left back who will star in the future in Milos Kos, they also had Marko Tasic named as the best defender in the All-star Team.

Serbia's numbers in defence are not that spectacular, but it was the gritty attitude and never-say-die mentality that lifted them to a medal at Portugal 2022. There is no doubt that Serbia are now on an upward trend after a few years of sleepwalking through competitions.

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Who was hot and who was not?

What about the teams that disappointed? For the first time in eight years, France missed the top four after a series of losses. They snatched sixth place, which was arguably below their expectations.

Germany finishing seventh and Denmark eighth, in spite of a great tournament from Thomas Arnoldsen, also unachieved. They are still two of the three teams – counting Spain after this tournament – who have won six medals at the M20 EHF EURO. Norway's 15th place, their worst in history, and Montenegro finishing 16th, after losing seven matches in a row, are also big disappointments.

On the other hand, credit goes to the Faroe Islands, who qualified for the 2023 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship, for finishing 10th in their maiden M20 EHF EURO. Despite having a population of roughly 50,000, the Faroe Islands did amazingly well, and the experience gained by several of their players lifted them to an unprecedented finish in the competition.

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