Handball in Europe
This article is about the sport of "Team" or "Olympic" Handball and not about the similarly named sport of American handball. Unqualified use of the term "handball" in this article is understood to mean the team variety as played indoors in Europe
Handball is one of the most popular team sports in much of Europe, particularly Germany, France, the Nordic countries and the countries of former Yugoslavia. Even regular league games often draw sellout crowds to the halls where it is played and the passion and dedication with which European handball connoisseurs follow their sport knows no equal.
Handball is known throughout continental Europe for its fast pace and high scores. Results like 24:22 are very common and a good goalkeeper is able to block about half the shots. In addition to good hand-eye-coordination, handball requires speed and strength as rapid "counterattacks" are crucial elements in a successful offense. While several varieties of handball have enjoyed popularity over the years Nordic dominance and its faster pace have made the indoor variety that can be played year round regardless of weather the dominant form of the game and the only one to be played professionally since at least the 1970s.
Handball is played by two teams of seven players each. The goal of the game is to throw the ball, which looks a lot like a miniature soccer ball, into the opposing goal. In front of either goal a semicircle is clearly marked as off limits to all but the goalkeeper. Stepping into this circle is punished by loss of ball possession for the offense or a free throw if done by the defense to gain a defensive advantage. A game takes two halves of thirty minutes each with no extra time. Time is stopped at the discretion of the referees when a long intermission in play occurs or during a team timeout. When the time for a half has elapsed, play immediately stops.
Fouls are penalized through free-throws or - in the case of more serious offenses - seven-meter throws as well as two minute penalties (ie the offending player is sent to the bench for two minutes and may not be replaced). Seven meter throws are similar to soccer in that the goalkeeper is the only player allowed to defend the goal. They typically have a high success rate and are a crucial element of game play.
Substitutions may be made at any time and in any number but only on the midfield line.
National league competitions
The German handball Bundesliga leads the handball world in at game attendance and - arguably - quality of play. While first division teams exist throughout the country, the best of them tend to be from the North, where handball enthusiasm tends to be strongest. The German league has always attracted foreign talent and as Germany is the reigning (2016) European Champion of Handball, most of the big names play in Germany.
European Championships feature a very high density of talent and intense match ups between sporting rivals. The men's edition is held every two years and was last held 2016 in Poland. The next event will be 2018 in Croatia. The Nordic countries, Germany and France have historically dominated European Championships. Sweden currently holds four titles, followed by France with three, Germany and Denmark with two each and Russia with one.
The women's European Championships are held in the same year but at different sites and different dates. Nordic dominance is even more pronounced on the female side. Norway has won it six times, Denmark thrice and Hungary and Montenegro both have one gold medal each. The next event will be held in December 2016 in Sweden.
While world championships are sometimes held outside of Europe to broaden the fan base of handball outside of the countries where it has historically dominated, most World championships are held in and won by European nations. Notable exceptions are Qatar (which hosted the 2014 edition and came in second) and Brazil which won the female world cup in 2013.