Over the years, many national teams have had great success in men’s handball. But which country has historically been the best in the sport? To settle the question, a rubric has been developed, which awards points based on tournament placement, both in the Summer Olympics and the IHF World Championship. The results show that France is the most historically successful nation in men’s handball, but that has not always been the case. Romania was once the most successful country, but since the 1990’s has absolutely flatlined. Interestingly enough, the top 13 teams are European. Egypt’s national team is the most successful outside of Europe.
16 pts – 1st Place
8 pts – 2nd Place
4 pts – Places 3-4
2 pts – Places 5-8
1 pt – Places 9 -16
TOP 5 MOST SUCCESSFUL NATIONS IN HANDBALL
1. France – 211 pts.
Despite only winning their first world championship in 1995, France is arguably the most successful country in handball. Since the team earned the bronze medal in the 1992 Olympics, France became a powerhouse. Its national team won the Olympic gold medal three times (2008, 2012, 2020) and the World Championship six times (1995, 2001, 2009, 2011, 2015, 2017). They are known for their dynamic and fast-paced style of play, as well as their excellent defense. They have produced several top center backs, including Nikola Karabatic, who won world player of the year three times, and Jackson Richardson.
2. Croatia – 181 pts.
Croatia won the Olympic gold medal in 1996 and 2004. It also won the IHF World Championship in 2003 as well as three silver medals. Furthermore, Croats formed a large portion of the Yugoslavian national team as well, before the country split up. Yugoslavia won the Olympic gold medal in 1972, 1984, and the 1988. Croatia is known for an aggressive and physical style of play. In an online poll, conducted by the IHF, Ivano Balić was voted the best male player of all time. More recently, Domagoj Duvnjak has been a strong leader for the Croatian team.
3. Russia – 172 pts.
For over a decade, Russia could have easily been considered the best country in handball. However, since its gold medal winning team in 2000, Russia not won a major tournament. In fact, its national team did not even qualify for the last three Olympic games. The Soviet Union won the gold medal in the 1976, 1988, and 1992 Olympics. Russia’s success in handball can be attributed to their tactical approach and ability to adapt to different opponents. Talant Dujshebaev is the only Russian to win IHF’s world player of the year, but the country has also had other good players, such as Dmitry Kovalev and Alexander Gorpishin.
4. Sweden – 171 pts.
Sweden won the first two major international handball tournaments in the 1950’s. However, the team was relatively weak in the 1970’s. In the 1990’s, the Swedish team begin to have a renaissance. The team won the IHF World Championship in 1990 and 1999. Furthermore, although Sweden has never won a gold medal in the sport, it does have four silver medals, with the most recent coming in 2012. They have produced several top players, including Magnus Wislander and Stefan Lövgren.
5. Germany – 159 pts.
In 1917, the modern rules of handball were codified in Germany. In addition, the Handball Bundesliga is arguably the sport’s strongest professional league. Despite this, Germany’s handball team is only the fifth most successful team according to the rubric, which even includes results from East and West Germany. Germany won the first gold medal in handball in 1938, but has not won the Olympic competition since then. However, West Germany won the IHF World Championship in 1978 and the reunified German team won it again in 2007. The German, Henning Fritz is one of the few goalkeepers to win player of the year.
HISTORIC RANKING TABLE OF ALL NATIONAL TEAMS
Russia took over Soviet Union’s records
Croatia took over Yugoslavia’s records (since Croatia has been more successful than Serbia)
Czech Republic took over Czechoslovakia’s records
Germany includes both East & West Germany’s records