So we’re into what our continental friends call the 1/8 round but which we’ll stick to calling the Round of 16 or Second Round, or first knock-out round. Or something. There are 16 teams left and from now on each match is an eliminator. Today sees the eight qualified teams from Groups A and B go forth blinking into this brave new world – all live on livehandball.tv or Bet365, but not actual TV – and this is how Handball Views sees it:
2.45pm (UK) Germany v Macedonia
The Germans lost to Tunisia but beat everybody else, including France, to top their group. Macedonia recorded two wins and a draw in their five group matches including overturning a 13:16 half time deficit against the Russians to take the point in that game. Germany haven’t looked as impressive as their table-topping performance would indicate: their defence has been no better than average but they have shared the goals around and been fairly ruthless on the fast breaks. Macedonia have the brightest and loudest fans in the tournament but as a team have relied a lot on Dejan Manaskov who is not only their top scorer but has been on court for all but 22 minutes of their group matches. If Germany play as well as they can they will win – but Macedonia will know that somebody out there should be able to ‘do a Tunisia’ on them.
4.3pm Brazil v Russia
Brazil recorded three good wins in their group by beating Tunisia, Argentina and Montenegro but you have to assume their run will come to an end today against a country that has won all the major titles available: World, Olympic and European, albeit none since 2000. Brazil will need to massively improve their shooting percentage (currently 51%) and their goalkeeping (31%) if they are to have any chance. Russia who have at times appeared to lack a bit of focus should have enough today and top scorer Tibor Dibirov will be looking to add to his tally.
7.15pm Iceland v France
The battle of the blue, white and reds and all true-born Englishmen will be pretending they know exactly how to pronounce Eyjafjallajökull but we can expect that even with the support of les rosbifs going to their opponents that the French will win through today. Despite the 37 goals of Guðjón Valur Sigurðsson (pronounced: Smith) Iceland haven’t really clicked as a unit as well as you might have expected and have had prolonged periods of wobbliness – perhaps best exemplified where they let a winning position against Russia turn into a heavy defeat. France are France – comfortable favourties in this and pretty much every match – and whilst they did lose to an inspired Germany and have to dig deep against Tunisia I think it’ll be the boys from the other side of la Manche who will be celebrating tonight.
7.15pm Denmark v Tunisia
You have to feel for Tunisia. They beat Germany. They scare the hell out of France. They win a hard-fought head-to-head decider against Argentina to progress. And their reward is to face the Danes. That’s European Champion 2012 Denmark, to you. Denmark with a 70% scoring percentage who have only felt the need to play Mikkel Hansen in three games. But when you have Anders Eggert stepping up with 33/36 and a defence that whilst not backed by rock solid goalkeeping does a good job of frustrating opponents you can just stroll through your group without dropping a point. Tunisia will go back to basics: a brutal, bruising defence and hope to ride out the inevitable suspensions and do enough to stay close and get in the Danish faces. It won’t be pretty but if they don’t manage it it will be a heavy loss and a sad end.