The 2022 IHF Beach Handball World Championships were decided this weekend in Crete. In a colorful spectacle at the Karteros Beach Sports Complex, Croatia’s talented men’s team and a well-oiled German women’s team rose to the occasion, snagging gold for their countries.
By Phil Butler
In the men’s finals, Croatia juggernaut Lucian Bura conducted yet another offensive exhibition, aiding his teammates in crushing the gold quest of European champions Denmark. From the opening tip, the finals match was an offensive slugfest, but Croatia’s 2-0 (24-22, 21-18) win was, ironically, largely because of defensive goal play at the end of the second set.
Bura, who dominated the tournament in scoring, either scored or freed up teammate Ivan Dumencic, to apply constant pressure on the capable Danish athletes. Brilliant stoppages by Croatia goalkeeper Dominik Markovic right before the buzzer doomed any chances for Denmark to even the match. Ultimately, the championship was decided on overall shot efficiency, with Croatia’s 70 percent outweighing Denmark’s 62 percent.
For Croatia, this was the fourth appearance in a world championship final and the third gold performance. Host Greece was thwarted in both the men’s and women’s championships. The men’s squad fell to the relentless onslaught of Croatia’s Lucian Bura all tournament.
The men’s bronze medal went to Brazil, with hosts Greece taking 4th place after a hard-fought 0-2 (15-18, 18-24) loss. Lucian Bura joined a stellar team of all-stars for the tournament including Simon Jensen, Martin Andersen, and Jeppe Villumsen of Denmark. Also tapped as all-stars were Georgios Eleftheriadis of Greece and Brazil’s Gil Pires.
The women’s finals were preceded by a kind of cosmic semi-finals shock. Heavily favored defending champion Greek women seemed to have angered Poseidon or another mythic power in their match versus the talented Spain team. After the Greek women managed only four points in a set, head coach Maria Karantoni told me it seemed as if the team had been blinded. She was quoted later saying such a dismal display, “had never happened in the team’s history.” Needless to say, the home team fans were shell-shocked.
Germany wins gold in women’s beach handball
Then came the women’s gold medal final, and it would be Spain’s turn to be thwarted, not by the fates but by precision teamwork. Spain succumbed 0-2 (14-15, 20-22) to the Germans, whose specialist Michelle Schäfer provided the knockout blows. The German squad managed to fend off Spain’s Patricia Conejero Galan at every juncture, effectively crushing any hopes the Spaniards had of victory.
Host Greece finished fourth overall, losing a very close bronze medal match to the athletic Netherlands women in a shootout. 1-2 (22-23,19-16, 8-9).
The 2022 IHF Beach Handball World Championships welcomed over 2,000 athletes from around the world to compete. The colorful and exciting tournament was hosted by Greece and the Hellenic Handball Federation (OXE) and supported by a host of partners including the Region of Crete, Hummel Sportswear, Sportfive, and Renault among others.
For a parting take on these championships, I asked the women’s top scorer of the tournament (by far), Team USA’s Christina Mansour about her take on 2022.
Mansour responded that: “These world championships have been a magical experience on so many levels—the Greek culture is so open, kind, and passionate, and all three of these feelings are shared sentiments in the game of beach handball. We play with passion; yet, we are kind and open in the spirit of fair play. For me, it was both humbling and exciting to play with the best players in the world in a place like Crete.”
Mansour made the women’s tournament all-star roster along with MVP from Spain Asuncion Batista, Germany’s Amelie Möllmann, Lucila Candela Balsas of Argentina, Rianne Mol of Netherlands, Spain’s Patricia Encinas Guardado, and Ntafini Dimitri of Greece.
In IHF Youth Beach Handball World Championship action from the first week of the tournament, Croatia’s men and Spain’s women edged all other competitors to become world champs. In both of these finals, gold and silver were decided by thrilling shootouts.
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