Brette Trost Visits A Handball Match in Barcelona

The small handball stadium Palau Blaugrana in Barcelona, sits adjacent to Camp Nou, the thunderous home of FC Barcelona. The football stadium, which is the most visited tourist attraction in all of Barcelona, topping Gaudi’s famed Sagrada Familia, provides a stark contrast to the humble Palau, as the handball stadium resembles that of a large high school gymnasium. On last Saturday afternoon, sparsely populated bleachers surrounded the court, which is smaller than a basketball court, as defending handball champions FC Barcelona Intersport began play against a last place HC Bosna BH Gas Sarajevo squad.

Though the postponement of the NBA season may have left you with a craving for a hand-centered sport, I would caution you before choosing handball to be your fix. Perhaps it was the lackluster crowd, or perhaps it was the poor quality of play by the Bosnian team, but whatever it was, it was dull.

The rules of the game are relatively straightforward. The objective of the game is to throw the ball into the opposing team’s goal. The court players, of which there are six, may only hold the ball for three seconds before passing, dribbling or shooting.

Only the goalkeeper is allowed within the semicircular goal line. The court players may catch and touch the ball in the air within the boundary as long as the player starts jumping outside the zone and releases the ball before landing.

Though this may sound like it would make for some pretty spectacular diving shots to the goal, there were few that were particularly noteworthy. While there was a fair share of athleticism and complete disregard for smacking one’s body down on the floor, many of the attempts to tip the ball into the net before entering the goalkeeper’s territory were usually swatted away. Goals were typically scored by quick and deceptive passes, and impressive jumping throws beyond the goalies terrain.

Following in the Barcelonan tradition, handball is considered a contact sport, as body contact is often used to disrupt the rhythm of play. However, while a few pushes and fouls were thrown, the Barcelona team may have a thing or two to learn from their football counterparts, who are known for their aggressive play. Though handball may be thought of as a contact sport, what I witnessed on Saturday seemed very tame.

It was very clear that the Bosnians had no chance against the more athletic and strategic showmen on Barcelona. Barcelona constantly penetrated Bosnia’s poorly structured defense, as they seemed to replicate the same play to the outside corner over and over again. It was obvious even to a novice that Bosnia had no skill of working the corners and consistently failed to complete passes. This accounts for why the Bosnian team has yet to win a single game in their group and boasts a last place goal differential of -80 (including this weekend’s loss). The final score of 37-19 came as no surprise, and put Barcelona one point away from qualifying for the final 16.

All in all, I found the sport a pretty grim substitution for the belated basketball season. Perhaps it was the crowd, which started out so quietly that one could clearly hear the banter between the players on the court. Perhaps it was the simplicity of the game. Whatever it was, the two neighboring sporting stadiums that sit on the outskirts of the city proved to be the reigning metaphor. Handball is the poor man’s football.

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