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My new favourite spectator sport

January 5, 2018

Handball.

Long ago and far away, I went to watch the Finnish women take on Italy in an exhibition game and so began my mild obsession with a game that I really, really like to watch. I’d like to play, but that’s a different story. I am approaching middle age… I will be content that I still play ringette and hockey – for now.

Handball is played by about 4000 people in Finland, and mostly among the Swedish speaking population on the south coast. It’s unfortunately an obscure sport here, which deserves far more attention than it gets.

I was really happy when the Little Miss declared a few years back that she wanted to try handball (after suggesting it to her). She is now in her third season of handball and really likes it a lot. These days she is playing for Atlas Vantaa. Timetable conflicts with other hobbies meant that I had to search for a new club, because she was vehement about continuing. As a junior player she gets into Atlas’s (men and women) Finnish league games for free, so when time permits, I try to make sure we can go and watch.

I am still learning the rules and I follow some clubs and players on social media, so I was pretty happy to find out there was a chance to see some high calibre handball close to home.

Last night I dragged the Mr. to watch a men’s handball World Cup qualification game between Finland and Slovakia, which was played at the Energia Areena in Vantaa. Finland is in the same pool as Russia, Slovakia and Luxembourg. From what I understand, only the top finisher of the pool will advance, and that looks to be Russia at the moment.

In any case, Finland and Slovakia faced off last night and the game got off to a slow start. I always assume that rivalry is tense between teams in qualification, but the guys on both teams were greeting each other with high fives and hand slaps on the court – even after the game started! They passed the ball back and forth a few times to get a feel for it and then things got rolling. There were a few penalties here and there and even laughs when players were dragged down the floor, and then picked each other up as the refs issued warnings… I was surprised. It was a good game and I’d love to see another one soon! (More on that in a sec.)

Slovakia prevailed 27-22, dimming Finland’s hopes of moving on. I caught some headlines prior to the game about the Granlund brothers (Max and Robin) who are new to the senior national team. They both play Finnish league handball for Dicken, one of the most successful clubs in the country. They’ve been referred to as the “Twin Towers”, and for good reason because they are both 2m (and some) tall – and are by far the tallest players on Team Finland. Of the two, Max saw more playing time… His performance was impressive: six goals. He was named as Finland’s player of the game, totally the right call. He has a cannon for an arm!

I am hoping my timetable is free next Thursday because Team Finland squares off against Luxembourg on January 11 in Vantaa. Tickets are EUR 20 (EUR 10 for kids) in advance and EUR 25 (EUR 15 at the door). Game time is a 18.30 at the Energia Areena in Vantaa.

Oh… And I think the Mr. actually enjoyed the game! 🙂

p.s. Happy New Year!

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