Stars line up in the goal and on the defence for the EHF Excellence Awards
The newly-introduced EHF Excellence Awards will honour the best players in each position on the court, plus the best defender, in both men’s and women’s handball for the previous season.
The players which were selected in the final ballot were shortlisted for it via several criteria. First, the performances in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League, where a team of the round was named at the end of each week, with the top three players from each position who have received the most nominations by the end of the quarter-finals making the list.
For the EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers, players which made significant contributions where also nominated, while additional players who performed in the EHF European League also got themselves on the shortlist.
Players, coaches, selected media as well as fans are eligible to participate with each group’s votes accounting for 25% of the overall result for every position. The vote for the female players will run from 26 May to 5 June. You can vote for your favourite via the “Home of Handball” app.
The EHF Excellence Awards Gala Night, where the winners will be named, will take place on 26 June 2023 in Vienna.
But who are the nominees for the best goalkeeper and the best defender at the EHF Excellence Awards 2023?
Let’s take a look!
Ignacio Biosca Garcia - ESP / Orlen Wisla Plock
- despite playing for only eight matches in the European premium competition for Plock, Biosca had 36 saves, being an integrant part of his team’s qualification for the quarter-finals for the first time in history
- the Spanish shot stopper started his season for Kadetten Schaffhausen, in the EHF European League Men, where he excelled, but switched to Plock in December, starring for the Polish side
- his penalty stop against Kauldi Odriozola in the play-offs’ second leg against HBC Nantes was instrumental for Plock’s qualification for the quarter-finals, as Biosca made the Team of the Week in both legs of the play-offs of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League
Benjamin Buric - BIH / SG Flensburg-Handewitt
- Flensburg’s goalkeeper was key in helping his side deliver good performances in the EHF European League Men, registering 131 saves in 12 matches
- his 34.5% saving efficiency in the second-tier European competition was the largest in the competition, with only three other goalkeepers boasting at least a 33% saving efficiency
- Buric also helped Bosnia Herzegovina qualify for the EHF EURO 2024, registering eight saves against Slovenia and seven saves against Montenegro in the last two games of the Qualifiers, being a key part of his side’s success
Viktor Hallgrímsson - ISL / HBC Nantes
- Hallgrímsson made 73 saves in 11 matches for HBC Nantes, confirming his status as one of the top goalkeepers in the world, despite being only 22 years old
- the Icelandic goalkeeper also made the Team of the Week in Round 5, where he had an outstanding game against THW Kiel, saving 15 shots for a 34% saving efficiency, as Nantes secured a clear 38:30 win
- he also helped Iceland win their group in the EHF EURO 2024 qualifiers, with an otherworldly performance against the Czech Republic in a 28:19 Iceland win, where Hallgrímsson had one of the best games of his career, saving 15 shots for a 57.6% saving efficiency
Niklas Landin - DEN / THW Kiel
- made exactly 100 saves this season in 17 games, but could not help an injury-ladened THW Kiel side secure a place in the TruckScout24 EHF FINAL4
- was nominated in this category also thanks to his inclusion in the Team of the Week in Round 13, where he helped Kiel win against RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko, 39:27, with 18 saves and a 40% saving percentage
- was a member of the Denmark squad that secured the gold medal at the World Championship and also won the EHF EURO Cup 2024, with five wins and a single loss against Sweden, Spain and Germany
Gonzalo Perez de Vargas - ESP / Barça
- was sixth in the number of saves made this season in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League, with 119, for a 31.1% saving efficiency
- Barça’s captain also made eight penalty saves from the 31 shots he faced, being on the sixth place in the number of penalties saved this season in the European premium competition
- secured his place in the nominees’ list with two berths in the Team of the Week, where he was named in rounds 7 and 9 of the group phase, making 15 saves (38.4% saving efficiency) against Kiel and 12 saves (54.5% saving efficiency) against Aalborg
Tobias Thulin - SWE / GOG
- no goalkeeper saved more shots than Tobias Thulin this season in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League, with the Swedish shot stopper being the only one to pass over 200 saves, registering 209 saves for a 31.5% efficiency
- his 31.5% saving efficiency was the best between the goalkeepers who made at least 100 saves this season in the European premium competition
- made the Team of the Week twice, in rounds 1 and 10 of the group phase, when he had 16 saves for a 42% efficiency against HC PPD Zagreb and 15 saves for a 32.6% efficiency against FC Porto
Andreas Wolff - GER / Barlinek Industria Kielce
- the German star had 162 saves, the second largest number in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League this season, only behind Tobias Thulin, as he ended the season with a 31.2% saving efficiency
- Wolff also registered the largest number of penalty saves in this season, 14, two more than any other goalkeeper, with an excellent 27.4% saving percentage on penalties
- the German shot stopper made the Team of the Week twice this season, in rounds 3 and 6 of the group phase, when he had 13 saves against Aalborg and 11 saves against OTP Bank-Pick Szeged
Expert's view on the position
Adrian Costeiu, EHF journalist: "Like in every category of the inaugural EHF Excellence Awards, it is very tough to separate the goalkeeping nominees, as individual performances have been great. Tobias Thulin, Andreas Wolff, Ignacio Biosca or Gonzalo Perez de Vargas all made the Team of the Week twice, while Benjamin Buric had true masterclasses of a performance for Bosnia and Flensburg. It will probably come down to personal preferences, but with Niklas Landin having a great track record in terms of individual awards, nobody should be counted out."
Blaz Blagotinsek - SLO / Frisch Auf Göppingen
- with only 27.75 goals conceded per game in the EHF European League Men, Frisch Auf Göppingen’s defence, anchored by Blagotinsek, was key in the competition
- Blagotinsek had the largest number of blocks in this season’s EHF European League Men, with 21 in 18 matches, being key for Göppingen reaching the EHF Finals Men in the second-tier European competition
- the line player was also part of the Slovenia team which sealed a berth for the EHF EURO 2024, being used in defence by coach Uros Zorman even in an unusual position, staying back to protect the goal when the team was attacking during a suspension for the opponents
Alexandre Cavalcanti - POR / HBC Nantes
- with an average of 31.75 goals conceded per game, Nantes was one of the top defences in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League and Cavalcanti was their lynchpin
- the towering 2.03m Portugal left back was integrant for both club and country, impressing on both sides of the ball, a great all-around effort, scoring 61 goals for Nantes in the European premium competition
- made it into the nominees’ list due to his excellent performances for Portugal in the EHF EURO 2024 Qualifiers, where he was named in the Team of the Round twice, both times after showstopping performances against North Macedonia
Matej Gaber - SLO / OTP Bank - Pick Szeged
- has established himself as one of the top defenders in the European premium competition in the past seven years at OTP Bank - Pick Szeged, with his towering presence helping the Hungarian side
- while the season has not been a vintage one for Szeged, their defence still worked, conceding 32.7 goals per game, yet Gaber was key in some games where Szeged won
- Gaber was one of the three players named as the best defender in the Team of the Week two times, in rounds 7 and 10 of the group phase, when Szeged clinched wins against Celje and Elverum
Tomasz Gebala - POL / Barlinek Industria Kielce
- was named the best defender in the Team of the Week three times, including in the second leg of the quarter-finals, where he delivered an excellent performance against Telekom Veszprém
- the towering left back, which is 2.12m tall, is the epitome of the defensive specialist, being used mostly in defence this season, with only five goals scored
- Kielce conceded on average 30.1 goals per game this season, the third lowest number in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League
Thiagus Petrus - BRA / Barça
- Petrus has confirmed his status of an excellent defender this season, when he anchored Barça’s defence, with the Spanish side staying undefeated on their way to Cologne
- no team has conceded less goals than the reigning champions, an average of 29.06 goals per game, with Petrus being a key part of that challenge, as he scored only four times in attack this season
- the Brazilian star, who has been playing for Barça since 2018, made the Team of the Week of the Machineseeker EHF Champions League in round 2 of the group phase
Simon Hald - DEN / SG Flensburg-Handewitt
- Flensburg were one of the top defences in the second-tier European competition, conceding 28.5 goals per game and Hald was the leader of the defence, playing in all matches
- Hald had the largest number of blocks in this season’s EHF European League Men, with 23 in 14 matches, being key for Flensburg reaching the quarter-finals in the second-tier European competition
- the 28-year-old line player was also a member of the Denmark team which secured the trophy in the EHF EURO Cup 2024
Henrik Møllgaard - DEN / Aalborg Håndbold
- the definition of a defensive specialist, Møllgaard has been used both on defence and in attack this season, due to the ongoing injury problem at Aalborg, scoring 12 goals
- Aalborg have conceded 30.7 goals per game with Møllgaard anchoring the defence, despite missing some key players on their way to the play-offs, where they were eliminated by GOG
- made the nominees’ list while being selected in the Team of the Week for round 4 of the group phase, when Aalborg delivered one of the heaviest defeats for OTP Bank – Pick Szeged, 41:29
Expert's view on the position
Adrian Costeiu, EHF journalist: "The rise of defensive specialists who are used mostly on defence has made this position crucial in modern handball, with individuals being able to influence the outcome of a game at a certain time. The seven nominees are all stalwarts in that respect, with two Slovenian players and two Danish players being in the nominee list. The only non-European player is Thiagus Petrus, Barca’s stalwart, who has been instrumental in the team’s success over the past years. This is also a category where personal preferences will decide, as the performances have been somewhat consistent for these players."
Photo: Roland Péka/Telekom Veszprém HC