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The secrets to France’s historic EHF EURO title

France won their fourth consecutive medal at a major international championship on Sunday night. What has led the European and world champions to their run of success?

France captain Siraba Dembele Pavlovic kisses the European Championship's plate. Photo: Uros Hocevar / Kolektiff Images

It is truly a golden era for French handball. After years of the men’s national team being a threat to the title at every international championship, the women’s side have now become a fearsome foe for any other side to face.

On Sunday night in a packed AccorHotels Arena in Paris, France made history as they claimed their first European title with a victory over Russia. The EHF EURO 2018 plate was won almost one year to the day after France claimed their second world title.

France are now part of an elite group to have won the world and European titles in succession, which previously included only Norway and Denmark. Not only that – France took an historic first medal, silver, at the 2016 Olympic Games and followed that with bronze at the EHF EURO 2016.

What is the secret to Les Bleues’ run of success?

The return of genius Krumbholz

At the 2015 World Championship, France ranked seventh after being eliminated by the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. After that, Olivier Krumbholz, who had vacated the post of head coach in 2013, returned to the helm – and that kickstarted a clear improvement in Les Bleues’ results.

Krumbholz has led France to a medal at every major international championship since, but the final in Paris on Sunday night was a special one: “This is the most amazing game I’ve coached in terms of emotions,” said the coach.

The France players say that since his return to the head coach position, Krumbholz has become more collaborative and open with the squad. Krumbholz now counts 10 medals won with France – but the figure of four won within two and a half years is particularly impressive and shows the effect of his altered approach.

No player left on the bench

When France won the World Championship in 2017, no player was on court for more than 37 minutes in the final. In the EURO 2018 final, every player stepped on the court during the match – and throughout the campaign leading up to the trophy game.

Krumbholz rotates through his squad extensively, sharing the responsibility and ensuring no player has too much pressure. But there were two telling time-played statistics from the medal match in Paris – the amount of time played by a player who has established herself as a key threat from France’s back court, Estelle Nze Minko.

The only player with more court time than Nze Minko was pivot and defensive expert Beatrice Edwige. She was on court for just over 55 minutes, scoring two goals but more importantly, leading the EURO 2018 hosts’ defence widely regarded as the best in the world.

Leynaud and Glauser: The outstanding goalkeeper duo

All-star Team member Amandine Leynaud and Laura Glauser finished as the second- and third-ranked goalkeepers at the EURO 2018, with equal save rates of 36 per cent. At the 2016 Olympic Games, Glauser finished first on 41 per cent while Leynaud was third with 38 per cent.

Glauser missed the World Championship 2017 due to maternity leave, and Leynaud ranked ninth on the list of top goalkeepers with a save rate of 35 per cent – but statistics aside, it was Leynaud who made the final decisive save to secure France a 24:21 victory in the trophy match.

The defence plays a huge role in contributing to the goalkeeper’s success, but the superb duo of Leynaud and Glauser are nevertheless a key reason France have been so strong in recent years. It is no surprise that France finished the EURO with the lowest number of goals scored against them – 181 in their eight matches.

With this defence, the great team effort highlighted by outstanding individual performance, a smart coach who works in close cooperation with his players, and a lot of emotion and heart, France are the deserving title winners at their home EHF EURO.

written by Courtney Gahan / ew