2019 World Men's Handball Championship set to start in Germany and Denmark

France defend their crown as Rio 2016 gold medallists Denmark seek the only title missing from their collection.

By Nicklas Vinde ·

Germany and Denmark are joint-hosts of the 2019 IHF World Men's Handball Championship starting in Berlin on Thursday.

France are bidding for a third consecutive title, and their fifth in six tournaments, while Denmark are hoping to add a first world title to their Olympic gold from Rio 2016.

And the last time Germany staged the event, in 2007, they emerged victorious.

Here you can find a preview of the championship, including schedule and ticketing information.

Co-hosts Denmark have hopes

It's a full 40 years since Denmark last hosted the World Championship.

The world was a very different place then.

Denmark finished fourth on that occasion, and the three nations finishing above them no longer exist.

They lost out to East Germany in the third-place playoff with West Germany beating the Soviet Union to take gold.

The Danes have reached three world finals - in 1967, 2011 and 2013 - and lost them all.

But the handball-mad nation claimed its first global crown at Rio 2016, beating France in a thrilling final.

Men's Handball gold for Denmark

Denmark's team win gold over France in men's handball in Rio 2016.

Victory would complete the circle for an historic era of Danish men's handball, with the team clinching the first of two European titles in 2008.

Since their Olympic title, they have failed to deliver at big events.

At the last World Championships in France two years ago, they suffered a shock last-16 exit to Hungary.

And they lost out to neighbours Sweden in last year's European Championships semi-finals in Croatia.

But this time they have home advantage and in Mikkel Hansen, they have one of the superstars of world handball.

Mikkel Hansen shooting in the Rio 2016 final against France

The powerful Paris Saint-Germain left back scored eight goals in the Olympic final, seven in the first half, and has twice been named IHF World Player of the Year.

He will be key to Denmark's hopes on home soil with the team playing their preliminary round games in Copenhagen and Herning.

And Casper U. Mortensen, another survivor from Rio 2016, hopes home advantage will help them take the title which has eluded them for so long.

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Germany bid to end 12-year drought

Denmark's co-hosts are Germany whose only previous world title came on home soil in 2007, although West Germany were successful at home in 1938 and in Denmark in 1978.

They have failed to reach the semi-finals since then, but hopes are high for an extended run from Christian Prokop's team.

Their star man is Hansen's Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Uwe Gensheimer.

Left wing Gensheimer has 13 years of international experience and he's twice been top scorer in the European Champions League.

Germany left wing Uwe Gensheimer during last week's warm-up game against the Czech Republic in Hanover

Like Denmark, Germany's recent form has been somewhat lacking since Rio 2016.

They took bronze in Brazil, months after claiming the European title in Poland.

France on a hat-trick

No team has won three consecutive men's handball world crowns although Romania did win four out of five in the 1960s and 70s when the competition was held every three years.

France scored their first triumph in the first biennial tournament in 1995.

They won it again in 2001 but it is in the last decade where they have been most dominant, winning back-to-back in 2009 and 2011 between their Olympic Games triumphs of 2008 and 2012.

A quarter-final exit in 2013 proved to be a blip as 'Les Bleus' regained their crown in 2015 before retaining it at home in 2017.

They are now seeking an unprecedented hat-trick of world titles.

Head coach Didier Dinart celebrates after France retained their world title in Paris in 2017

Denmark may have denied them a third consecutive Olympic gold in Rio, but France once again look to be the team to beat.

Coach Didier Dinart, a double Olympic champion himself, has had the onerous task of whittling down his squad to 16 players.

He has some exceptional young talent, including FC Barcelona pair Dika Mem and Ludovic Fabregas, at his disposal.

And with experienced heads like double Olympic champion Luc Abalo in the squad, France are fancied to go a long way again.

Luc Abalo featured in the Olympic Channel original Flag and Family which you can watch below.

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But injuries are commonplace in handball, and they have cost France one of their biggest names.

Three-time World Player of the Year Nikola Karabatic, another star plying his trade at Paris Saint-Germain, is out as he recovers from foot surgery.

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France and Germany are both in what looks a fiercely competitive Group A along with Russia, Serbia, Brazil and Unified Korea.

The top three in each of the four groups will go through to the 'main round' which consists of two pools of six teams.

Others to watch

While France, Denmark and Germany look the favourites on paper, there are plenty of dangers lurking throughout the field.

Spain clinched their first European title in Croatia last January, beating Sweden in the final.

They also won the World Championships on home soil in 2013, beating Denmark in Barcelona's Palau Saint Jordi to claim their only global crown to date.

Norway are a growing force in handball and silver at France 2017 was their first podium finish at any major tournament.

They will be fighting for another medal with a long-term plan of qualifying for their first Olympic Games since 1972.

Norway's Bjarte Myrhol beats French goalkeeper Vincent Gerard in the final of the 2017 World Championships in Paris

Iceland might have their sights set on Tokyo 2020 but they cannot be written off with Gudmundur Gudmundsson as their head coach.

The 58-year-old Reykjavik-born trainer guided Denmark to gold at Rio 2016 before steering Bahrain to the final of the Asian Games.

Now he has returned for his third spell with his home nation.

His first was from 2001 to 2004, but it is his second spell from 2008 to 2012 for which he is best remembered, leading Iceland to a shock silver medal at Beijing 2008.

Only record appearance maker and goalscorer Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson and goalkeeper Bjoergvin Pall Gustavsson remain from that squad.

Iceland wing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson playing for his German club side Rhein-Neckar Loewen

Sigurdsson, who scored 43 times in Beijing, may now be 39 but remains one of the most effective wings in the game.

FC Barcelona centre back Aron Palmarsson is another high-class player, making Iceland a threat to any side.

Unified Korea team: More than handball

PyeongChang 2018 showed how sport could become secondary when a Unified Korean women's ice hockey team made its Olympic debut.

Their story is detailed in the Olympic Channel documentary ‘We Are One’.

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This year, Unified Korea will take part for the first time in a handball World Championship.

The squad has been preparing in Germany since before Christmas and they have been allowed 20 players, instead of the usual 16, to allow for greater integration of four players from North Korea.

South Korea had qualified for the competition before the decision was taken in October to make it a joint team.

Tournament schedule

Preliminary Round (January 10th to 17th):

Group A (all games in Berlin):

France, Russia, Germany, Serbia, Brazil, Korea

Group B (all games in Munich):

Spain, Croatia, FYR Macedonia, Iceland, Bahrain, Japan

Group C (all games in Herning except Denmark's opener against Chile in Copenhagen):

Denmark, Norway, Austria, Tunisia, Chile, Saudi Arabia

Group D (all games in Copenhagen):

Egypt, Sweden, Hungary, Qatar, Argentina, Angola

The top three in Groups A and B will go through to Group I of the main round with Group II comprising the top three from Groups C and D.

Results between qualified teams will be carried forward to this second stage.

Main Round (January 19th to January 23rd)

Group I (all games in Cologne):

Top three teams from Group A and Group B

Group II (all games in Herning)

Top three teams from Group C and Group D

After each team plays three games in the main round, the top two in each group will progress to the semi-finals with the rest contesting classification matches.

Semi-finals (January 25th, Hamburg):

Winner of Group I v Winner of Group II

Winner of Group II v Winner of Group I

Seventh place and Fifth place game (January 26th, Herning)

Third place game and Final (January 27th, Herning)

Ticket info

Head to the official tournament website for all the ticketing information.

Olympic qualification

The winners of the World Championship will join hosts Japan at Tokyo 2020.

Ten more teams will make it to Tokyo with the next berth decided at August's Pan American Games.

The Asian qualifiers take place in October and like, the Pan Am Games, the winners will book their place at the Olympics.

Then in January next year, two more spots will be taken by the victors in the African Championships and the European Championships.

Finally in April 2020, 12 teams - most likely comprising eight from Europe, two from Asia, one from South America and one from Africa - will fight it out at the World Olympic Qualification tournaments for the final six places at Tokyo 2020.