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Coaches / Analysis / Details

What impact can goalkeepers have on a match in modern handball?

By Mats Olsson, Member IHF CCM


The performance of the goalkeepers in the World Championship in Egypt was in line with what is going on in top handball nowadays: higher efficiency from the shooters and lower efficiency from the goalkeepers compared with past championships (Figures {8288ce49-4b36-45bf-9873-dd46919a569d,1} and {fc7a512c-31cf-4827-b5eb-96e1a6f197d5,2}).

Statistically, we can see that the overall saving percentage of the goalkeepers continues to slowly decrease compared with previous World Championships, but this does not mean that we had better goalkeepers before! In my opinion, the goalkeepers of today’s handball are at least at the same level as before when it comes to skills.

What has developed a lot is the skills and the individual quality of the attackers – physically, tactically, and technically. This together with the development of the game and the rule interpretations gives the shooter a little more advantage nowadays against the goalkeepers, especially in the situations where the attacker finishes from the 6-metre line. Today, the attacker can concentrate and focus more on the goalkeeper’s position and movements than in the past and convert this into an advantage for himself.

{02042bfb-2b75-441e-87ec-bd92f5186ae8,Video 1}: Technically skilled player against well positioned goalkeeper (SWE-DEN)

The technical skill of the wing player (Hampus Wanne) against a very well positioned goalkeeper (Niklas Landin) is one good example that shows how difficult it is today for the goalkeepers against technically skilled players.

Official statistics

The average saving percentage for the whole tournament was 28 %, with thebest saving percentage at 35 % (ESP) and the lowest at 17 %. If we compare this with previous World Championships, we can see that the overall saving percentage is slowly decreasing. That is a tendency that we who work specifically with the goalkeepers have to find a way to stop.


Compared with the past World Championships since 2015, the statistics show that we have fewer 9-metre shots today: in Egypt, 27 % of the shots came from the 9-metre range, compared with 32 % in 2015. For example. The figures of wing shots and 6-metre shots have stayed more or less equal compared to previous championships, both in percentage of type of shots and saving percentage. The tendency shows us that the decrease of long-range shots came with an increase in shots from breakthroughs during the last championship: 14 % of all shots were coming from breakthroughs, while in 2019 it was 10 %, and in 2017 only 6 % of all shots! We can clearly see this in the official statistics. This means that we have to prepare our goalkeepers for this type ofgame with one-against-one actions in breakthrough situations.

If we look particularly at the eight teams that qualified for the quarter-finals, we can see that we have an average of 31.2 % in saving percentage compared with 28 % for all teams. Seven out of the eight teams are over the average for the whole tournament. This shows the importance of goalkeepers who maintain a high-performance level over time and the entire course of the tournament.

At the same time, we can see from the statistics that three teams with high figures in goalkeeper statistics didn’t reach the quarter-finals – Argentina, Slovenia, and Germany all achieved an average saving percentage of 34, the second best in the tournament behind Spain.

This shows that it is not only important to have a consistent level, but also to peak in important matches or moments of specific matches. I will go a little deeper into this further on.

From the quarter-finals and onward we can see that in seven out of eight matches the team that won the goalkeeper game statistically also won the match – consistency! The only exception was the loss of Hungary (32 %) against France (24 %) in one of the quarter-finals.

A tendency that we saw by observing the matches and that is not seen in the statistic is that we have more shots from the wing positions from more open angles. Often, the number one defenders need to help the number two defender and leave a good opportunity to the wing players to catch a big angle for shooting when they finally receive the ball.

{1cf031a2-8f6e-4c42-a370-39c8d86381d0,Video 2}: Wide angle for wing player to finish (NOR-ESP)

Complicated situation for the goal keeper as the wing player has both a wide angle and a lot of time.

{2a2d6405-5d02-4807-94ce-87d3f8e34e0b,Video 3}: Wide angle for wing player to finish (FRA-HUN)

Difficult for the goalkeeper – even if he finds the right position in time, the wing player has a lot of open space to use for his shot.

{ec63c825-eb48-4e55-a388-903ee79270ad,Video 4}: Advantage for wing player through physical skill (FRA-HUN)

As mentioned, the physical development of the players gives the wing players possibilities to reach even better angles against the goalkeeper’s position.

{aaaa6769-9e2c-4378-8785-85b059ea8b1b,Video 5}: Fourteen per cent of all shots were taken after breakthroughs (DEN-EGY)

Nowadays, the backcourt players are keener to go for breakthroughs than in the past, which complicates the goalkeeper’s job.

{055da47a-b009-4342-a95d-6054e34793a6,Video 6}: Fourteen per cent of all shots were taken after breakthroughs (DEN-EGY)

Nowadays, the backcourt players are keener to go for breakthroughs than in the past, which complicates the goalkeeper’s job.

{b2ba6215-2318-4ba6-80ba-9c05a6ae37fa,Video 7}: Advantage for the backcourt player against the goalkeeper through physical skill (DEN-EGY)

As mentioned, physical development gives players possibilities to gain time and change angles against the goalkeeper’s initial position.

{3bea62f2-fd0a-410e-9532-0bbd566b477c,Video 8}: Technical skills open up the angles from the wings (DEN-EGY)

Technically skilled backcourt players open a lot of space for shots from the wing.

{968b4e3a-372e-40c6-aeef-d95b8f96c775,Video 9}: Technical skills open up the angles from the wings (DEN-EGY)

Technically skilled backcourt players open a lot of space for shots from the wing.


I would like to go a little deeper into three different main points of the development of goalkeeping from my point of view:


Today, we can more often than earlier see that the teams use more than one goalkeeper during a match or a tournament. The coaches mostly know and understand the high load, mentally and physically, that lies on the goalkeepers during a World Championship and try as much as possible to achieve the highest performance level throughout the tournament by using more than one goalkeeper. This is also where we can see the arrival of a specific goalkeeper coach in many teams who can help the head coach in bringing and keeping the goalkeepers on the highest possible performance level in every match.

From the statistics we can see that the eight quarter-finalists used 21 goalkeepers; five teams used three goalkeepers each (HUN, QAT, ESP, DEN, FRA) and three teams (NOR, EGY, SWE) used two goalkeepers each.

We can also see that two teams (HUN, FRA) used their “first” goalkeeper over 68 % of the playing time followed by SWE at 64 % and DEN at 63 %. So even the teams that had a clear first choice for the position used with other players for more or less one third of the playing time!

Another very interesting point is that the team that had the best goalkeeper performance statistically (ESP) used their two “first-choice” goalkeepers for an equal amount of time – 3 hours and 45 min each over the course of the tournament! Maybe a strategic decision to spread the load?

Decisive moments in the matches

This has always been one of the key points for a high-performance goalkeeper. Not only consistency is crucial, but also making saves in decisive momentsof the match. Today, this aspect is even more important when, as we can see, the consistency is decreasing. Decisive moment doesn’t always mean to save the last shot, it often means to make the saves in the moment of the match when it is shifting towards one or another team. To have a goalkeeper who helps the team to take control or keep the team in the match when the play is struggling in some part of the court is crucial for a high-performance team. Examples are Palicka in the semi-final between Sweden and France and also Landin’s momentum in the final match between Denmark and Sweden.

{bb727502-9fc5-490e-afd8-795e80e57adb,Video 10}: Boost of confidence for the team (SWE-FRA)

Swedish GK (Palicka) makes a “Karate-Kid” save in the last moment of the first half. 30 min left but this save gives the Swedish team a lot of confidence.

{b3cde84c-14dd-4c74-8892-7d43b7170efd,Video 11}: Decisive saves don’t always occur in the last attack (SWE-DEN)

Danish GK (Landin) makes a spectacular save in a one-against-one situation (Lagergren). Crucial moment of the match even if there are 11 minutes left to play! Denmark keeps the initiative and Sweden has to work hard to reach them.

{b00cd1b4-4299-4261-b20e-e66f2eba93cb,Image Series 1}: Spectacular save by Landin (DEN) in a decisive phase of the World Championship final DEN-SWE (50th minute, 23:21)

At the same moment as the left back passes to the centre back, the right wing, in the back of the defence, moves from the non-ball side to the open centre (Images 1 to 3).

In Images 2 and 3, one can clearly see that the centre back could play a direct pass to the open right wing. Landin anticipates the possible pass and with a step to the front, he takes up an offensive basic position (Images 4 and 5).

The centre back, however, passes the ball on to the right back who can go for the breakthrough at the open wing (Images 6 and 7). Landin reacts immediately and changes his basic position towards the anticipated jumping position of the right back (Images 6 and 7).

As the right wing jumps off, Landin corrects his position towards the centre and the anticipated shooting position (Images 9 and 10). In Images 9 and 10, we can again see Landin focusing the throwing arm and ball.
In this important situation of the match, Landin is able to spectacularly save the high shot into the near corner with his foot (Images 10 to 12).

{76f6d886-2b73-46c0-8a51-542fa1e20a11,Video 12}: Decisive moment near the end of the game (SWE-DEN)

Danish GK (Landin) makes a 7-metre save (Wanne), a clear decisive moment of the match that finally gives Denmark the World Championship triumph.

One against one

The development of the game and the court players force today’s goalkeepers to be better than ever before in one-against-one situations against the attacker. We see these situations especially in breakthroughs against the number two defender or from the wing positions, especially, as I mentioned above, from wide angles.

When we look at these particular situations of the game and how the top goalkeepers try to face them, we can talk about four “micro moments” (Info 3) for the goalkeeper:

a) Read the game – The goalkeeper needs to develop a high understanding of the game and have the ability to read the situation and see that there will be a breakthrough attempt, the earlier the better. Withthis, the goalkeeper will win time and find the right position in the angles against the attacker without stress.

b) Position – Find the right position in accordance with the goalkeeper’s physical aspects and the attackers height and jumping direction.

c) Correction – It is important to correct the position and decide on the technique that is best to use in the particular situation.

d) Action – Concentrate on the body language of the shooter, focus on the arm and ball, and go for the save!

{56a30618-1e5a-4f67-a860-9f56b2354080,Video 13}: Always focus on the shooter’s arm and the ball (HUN-FRA)

Hungarian GK (Mikler), He does not find the time for micro moments 1-3 but is very much concentrated on the BT player’s (Mahé) body language and focused on the arm/ball (micro moment 4).

{1305e26b-232a-482e-b516-781c8812c409,Video 14}: Perfect goalkeeper play in one against one (HUN-FRA)

It is a difficult situation but Hungarian goalkeeper Mikler 1. reads the game, 2. finds his best position and keeps calm, 3. corrects his initial position, and 4. acts in a tactically perfect manner.

{8d8970ac-697a-4471-8c30-b8f756b6ebfb,Video 15}: The importance of reading the game ( HUN-FRA)

Mikler reads the situation extremely well and comes into the right positions quickly. Micro moments 1 and 2.

{42b27466-b926-46dc-b1a4-e1d5d649c286,Video 16}: The importance of mastering several techniques and tactics (SWE-FRA)

Swedish GK (Palicka),

1. Perfectly reads the situation, 2. uses different positions due to different tactics, 3. corrects himself by observing the BT player (Mahé), and 4. acts in two totally different tactical manners!

{831313d8-0a8e-4211-92e6-0ee1b944d836,Image Series 2}: Save by Palicka (SWE) against the centre back after breakthrough between left number one and two defenders (World Championship semi-final SWE-FRA, 15th minute, 8:7)

From a counterattack – the Swedish defence is outnumbered and not yet organised – the French centre back Mahé attacks the space between the left number one and two defenders (Images 1 to 3). With a quick change of direction, he goes for the breakthrough between his two opponents (Image 4).

Palicka realises this attempt very early and with one step moves towards the anticipated shooting position to face the attacker (Images 3 to 5).

In Image 5, he jumps from his left standing leg to initiate a (convincing) hand-foot save in the far corner of the goal. In Images 5 and 6, one can clearly see that the right-hander jumps far to the side. Still in the air, he switches legs and is subsequently able to save the waist-high shot with his left leg. Images 8 and 9 show very well that Palicka uses both his arms optimally to cover a large area of the goal.

{6c5b8665-0cda-461f-936b-114e7e7e4094,Video 17}: Excellent goalkeepers remain calm (SWE-DEN)

Danish GK (Landin)

1. Perfectly reads the game, 2. finds his “best” position 3., corrects his initial position, and 4. executes his action in a controlled and optimised way.

{5cf54df6-97ae-424e-8236-8eed2dea5518,Image Series 3}: Optimised and controlled save by Landin (DEN) against the left wing who has an open shot from a wide angle (World Championship final DEN-SWE, 9th minute, 5:4)

From a two-against-one advantage on the left side of the attack, the left back passes to the left wing who starts running from the corner of the court (Images 1 and 2).

In Images 3 to 5, Landin correctly anticipates the situation and with one step moves towards the left wing. Landin reaches a basic position in the near corner of the goal before the wing player takes the jump (Image 6).

To face the long jump of the left wing, Landin corrects his position with a sidestep (Images 7 to 8). In Image 9, we can clearly see Landin focusing on the wing player (throwing arm and ball).

He is able to save the waist-high shot with a quick movement of hand and foot (Images 10 to 12). It is impressing to see how he maintains stable position on his right standing leg in this situation.

{8c3c4a99-d69c-45ce-a6c0-f91d2a3c4669,Video 18}: The importance of not being predictable as a goalkeeper (SWE-DEN)

Danish GK (Landin) 1. Perfectly reads the game, 2. finds his “best” position, 3. corrects his initial position, 4. executes with an unorthodox but efficient technique.

{356636d2-1597-4b12-ae9a-2313e5a4d4ea,Image Series 4}: Unorthodox but highly efficient save by Landin (DEN) in a decisive phase of the World Championship final DEN-SWE (40th minute, 17:17)

Sweden’s centre back Gottfridsson wins a duel (Image 1), thus forcing the left number two defender to help out. As a consequence, a two-against-one advantage is created on the right side of the attack (Image 2).

The right back plays a quick backhand pass to the right wing, who now finds himself with a wide open space for a jump into the goal area to widen his shooting angle (Image 3).

Landin reads and anticipates the development of the game situation perfectly and faces the left wing by taking two steps towards the position where he takes the jump (Images 3 to 6). He reaches this basic position before the wing player takes the jump and acts in the far corner of the goal (Image 6).

Subsequently, Landin anticipates the long jump by the right wing and with a sidestep corrects his position (following the jump of the right wing in Images 7 to 8).

In Image 8, we can see that he shortly lifts his right leg to save the shot (which might be an intended feint) but then changes his mind to go for a hand-foot save standing on his right leg (Image 9).

The right wing is focused on a shot into the far corner past the goalkeeper’s standing leg. With an unorthodox but highly effective action, he very quickly lowers his upper body to the side and can save the shot with his right hand (Images 9 to 10).


The role of the goalkeepers within the top teams is to play with a high-level consistency and at their best in the decisive moments of the matches! In handball, the goalkeepers always have had a big influence on the result of a match or a tournament. Fortunately, this continues to be true!