Today we move into the final eight stage of the World Championship. We are in sight of the final and the glory that brings. But before then we have the heartache that going out before the medal rounds will bring. There will be tears and cheers today – and hopefully some good, close handball. As ever, if you’re in the UK, you’ll need to go online to watch. That’s livehandball.tv and pay a subscription or Bet365 and have some money in an account. But enough of the preamble, let’s get to the amble:
5.15pm (UK) Russia v Slovenia
This is the second meeting between these two teams in World Championship history: seven years ago Russia overturned an 18:16 deficit to record a 31:27 win. It will go against form if the same were to happen today. Somehow the IHF ranks Slovenia 23rd and Russia 3rd in the global men’s game. We’ve not seen that in Spain. Slovenia have been the only team to play consistently in pretty much every match and, as a result, they have won every match. Russia was heavily dependent on their goalkeeper, Igor Levshin, in the previous round against Brazil. They need to find more ways of moving forward – and speed up their game which very often has dropped to pedestrian levels. A goalscorer other than Timur Dibirov would also help.
The bookies say: Slovenia by 1; Handball Views says: Slovenia in extra time
6pm Spain v Germany
Are we excited yet? Spain have beaten Germany in five of their last eight competitive meetings and in front of their home crowd will be expecting to do so again. They were ruthless against Serbia – if you’ve seen how the Norway women’s team pounce on the ball and then launch a fastbreak that crushes hopes you’ll know what I mean. And Spain did it time and again to establish a dominant position they never remotely looked like losing. They did wobble a bit against Croatia in the group stage but could put that down to having already qualified. Germany showed against Macedonia that they too can move the ball quickly when needed and they have a tournament leading 95% fastbreak efficiency (scoring 36 times this way in their 6 games so far). This game could boil down to who makes the fewest errors and respects possession the most. If Germany are to win I’d guess they need to hit the front early as with the crowd going wild it’ll be hard to come from behind.
The bookies say: Spain by 5; Handball Views says: Spain all day long
7.45pm Denmark v Hungary
Given that Denmark are one of the favourites it’s possibly a surprise to note that Hungary hold the edge in recent encounters. Denmark were runners-up to France two years ago and have played this tournament like a horse conserving energy for the sprint after the final fence. They haven’t been inspiring but they have done what they need to do. They eased past Tunisia in the last round but with players such as Mikkel Hansen and Anders Eggert capable of turning matches by themselves they can always find that next gear. Hungary are a team without any dominant stars (or so it appears to me): Gabor Csaszar leads their scoring with 25 but he’s part of a group of half a dozen with a similar tally. It will be that sort of dogged togetherness which may see them hang in today but anything other than Danish win will be the upset of the tournament.
The bookies say: Denmark by 5; Handball Views says: Denmark by 5
8.30pm France v Croatia
In the twelve competitive matches logged on Handball Wettpoint, France have a 7-5 advantage. But two of those were major finals: the 2009 World and 2010 European finals went bleu. Croatia have their own titles too of course: two Olympic golds and a World title. This is the Big One of the quarter final stage. Read off a list of the French squad and as well as sounding like a PSG shopping list it’s a roll call of the most exciting players in the game: Karabatic, Dinart and Abalo, backed with the shouty and fun Thierry Omeyer in goal. Croatia have come to the tournament without Ivano Balic and with a coach talking about a ‘transition’ team or why this isn’t an important tournament to win because you don’t qualify for another as a result. Croatia’s performances have shown such lines up for the hooey they are. They won all five of their group matches and then smashed Belarus 21:9 in a single half of play. Ivan Cupic has led the way with 39 goals, 30 of which have come from fast breaks or 7m slams. Expect this game to go down to the wire.
The bookies say: France by 1; Handball Views says: France come from behind to win