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Coaches / Analysis / Details

Qualitative analysis (2)

Performance analysis of group and team behaviour

This section provides an overview of the development trends in defence behaviour. We will focus on the consistent IHF rule interpretation communicated prior to the World Championship.


1. Individual and group tactical defence behaviour – Adapting the IHF rule interpretation

Already prior to the 2019 World Championship, all 24 teams were extensively informed and provided with video footage about the IHF rule interpretation discussed and developed during the referee preparation seminar. In addition, discussions were held with the head coaches of the participating teams at the four venues before the first match day.

The focus of the IHF rule interpretation was on the following:

  • Rule 8: Consistent line for progressive punishment
    • Direct two-minute suspensions are possible from the very beginning (without a prior yellow card).
    • Consistent rule interpretation when attackers are pushed while in mid-air
  • Pivot zone: Consistent line for duels around the goal area
    • IHF line: Long holding and pulling down of the line player always warrants a direct two-minute suspension.
    • New guideline: If there is long holding of the line player by a defender, but the line player is still able to take a controlled shot, the referees should give advantage and not interrupt the game. Depending on the preceding violation, the referees must inform the guilty defender accordingly the first time (without interrupting the game).
  • Passive play
    • Preventing excessively long build-up phases (for example, ‘walking handball’ in the opponents‘ half of the court)
    • Attacking behaviour when a team substitute the goalkeeper for an additional field player (for example, different tactical attacking actions without aiming to create a throwing situation – objective: playing for time).

As far as the individual and collaborative defence behaviour is concerned, we observed a clear adaptation of the defenders in the World Championship matches. Today, the defenders basically try to defend in a ball-oriented way, that is, they try to move forward in the direction of the ball and around the blocking line player, which allows them to assume an ideal position between ball and opponent.

Quite often, the central defenders succeeded in blocking or even intercepting passes to the line (see {c2294ec4-70ac-41a5-9881-f914d8341346,video 9}). Never before had so many passes to the line been intercepted at a World Championship.

{5f42916a-2e5a-4a66-9b85-9224aac5253d,Video 10} features some scenes that illustrate the IHF rule interpretation around the goal area.


2. Team-tactical defence behaviour

In today’s international handball, the teams mostly rely on 6-0 defence formations. World champions Denmark mostly used a 6-0 defence as well. Depending on the situation and opponents, however, Denmark’s defence was able to act very flexibly and rather offensively at times.

Some of the top teams used a true second defence formation. Just as the years before, France used both a 6-0 and a 5-1 defence.

What is new is that Germany (4th place) used a 3-2-1 defence in addition to the traditional 6-0 defence for the first time (see Germany's active 3-2-1 defence for special situations). Interestingly,

  • there was a tall defender (Hendrik Pekeler, 2.03m) acting in the central forward position, who kept his offensive position in the centre when his team turned defence into a 2-4 attacking formation and, through clever positional play, continuously tried to disrupt the attacker’s timing and force the back-court players back into the depth of the court.
  • in their important main round match against Croatia, Germany also used a 3-2-1 defence against Croatia’s seven-against-six attack.


3. Collaborative and team-tactical attacking behaviour (positional attack)

The key objective of positional attacks from three-against-three attacking formations and tactical attacking actions (crossing and/or moving to the line) is the cooperation in small groups as finishing action in preferably larger spaces. Therefore, many tactical triggering actions only serve as preparation, creating or shifting space.

Many team-tactical triggering actions quite often end

  • in two-against-two situations, especially in depth (cooperation between back-court and line players)
  • in three-against-three situations, especially in width (collaborative wave on the left or right attacking side between centre back and right/left back and left/right wing)
  • in four-against-four situations on the left or right side (cooperation between centre back and right/left back and left/right wing with additional support by the line player through blocking)

In {d43b49d7-f1cc-4ec0-8211-c92c99cb4564,video 11}, we can clearly see the vital importance of tactically systematic changes of pace and rhythm.


As a consequence of the more frequent use of 6-0 defence formations, the teams continue to start their attacks with different forms of crosses with and without ball.

Many teams use different types of crosses without ball (centre back and right/left back start the attack by crossing without ball).

Denmark also used an interesting variation, which they consistently used to successfully start their attacks in the World Championship final (see Successful positional attacks in the final with only one triggering action). We will present this tactical triggering action in a separate article.