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
How do you feel about destiny? After Spain brushed aside what might have been expected to be an akward test against Serbia their fans must be starting to dream of a win for the home side in their first go at hosting the championship. Elsewhere it was business as usual for Slovenia and Croatia but Hungary and Poland at least had a match that had occasional moments of interest …
Slovenia 31:26 Egypt
Ten goals from Ahmed Mostafa were not enough for the Egyptians who were blitzed in the final stages of the first half, falling from level pegging to eight behind. They never got close enough in the second stanza but at least they weren’t embarrassed by the final score.
Serbia 20:31 Spain
The hall wasn’t full but by volume it might as well have been. Spain were in white, the Serbs in red which was a bit confusing but what was pretty straightforward was how the Spanish pounced on every Serb error in the opening stages and then never looked back. Albert Rocas had the most fun landing seven goals from seven attempts.
Croatia 33:24 Belarus
After six minutes Ivan Cupic scored from the 7m line to put Croatia up by 2 – the first time in the match either team had such a lead. By half time Croatia led 21:9 and Belarus’s save percentage was in single figures. Belarus aren’t a bad side but Croatia are playing like a team who want people to notice that they’re not just here to make up the numbers.
Hungary 27:19 Poland
This was close at half time with Hungary owning a 11:10 advantage but the boys in red pulled away in the first section of the second half to move out to 17:11 around the 40 minute mark and then not really looking back.
The quarter final draw therefore looks like this (all matches to be played 23 January):
Denmark v Hungary
France v Croatia
Germany v Spain
Russia v Slovenia
Day 2 of the knock out stages and all eyes are probably on Serbia v Spain. But there are other matches too. So here’s our look at them all.
6pm (UK) Slovenia v Egypt
It’s not the most glamourous tie of the round and it should be a routine win for Slovenia who qualified with five wins from five. Egypt did enough in their group by taking a draw against Algeria and then progressing on goal difference. Slovenia have a European second place to their name (in 2004) and reached the quarter finals last year but they’ve never finished better than 10th in the Worlds. Egypt took third place in last year’s African championship but can boast being the only non-European side to reach a World Championship semi final – unfortunately that was over a decade ago. This should be a relatively straightforward progression for Slovenia.
Winner plays Russia
6pm Serbia v Spain
Hands up who saw this match appearing as early as the Round of 16? This match will be a proper test for the title credentials of the #hispanos. Spain have won the last two encounters between the sides (both last year, in Olympic qualifying and then at the Games themselves) and away from their hometown venues Serbia are much less dominant. In their group they lost to both Poland and Slovenia. But then, Spain similarly fell to Croatia in their last match. I’m going to go with Spain but I think it will be close.
Winner plays Germany
8.30pm Hungary v Poland
Two efficient but strangely uninspiring sides meet in the late game in Barcelona. Poland made it to the World Championship final in 2007 and were third in 2009 but now stand 11th in the IHF rankings. They have grit – coming from behind to beat Serbia – and are also good at closing out matches. If you know Hungary at all you’ll know that they routinely finish 4th in the Olympics. In the World Championship they don’t often make it that far – a semi final and losing final spot being their tally. There’s no shame in having lost to Croatia and Spain in the group stages and for no reason other than they’ve been stretched more by their opposition I’m going with Hungary today.
Winner plays Denmark
8.30pm Croatia v Belarus
Croatia have two Olympic and one World titles; Belarus have two World Championship appearances. This is a proper top qualifier v bottom qualifier match up and any result other than a comfortable win for the Croatians will see me buying and wearing a Belarus top as punishment.
Winner plays France
Pretty much went with the script today …
Germany 28:23 Macedonia
It was 8 minutes in before Macedonia opened their account, by which time they were 4:0 down. The result was never really in doubt from that point on. Kiril Lazarov top-scored again for Macedonia with 8 taking his tournament tally to 44.
Brazil 26:27 Russia
Brazil missed a shot with 5 seconds left that would have tied the game. Russia were never allowed to get away in a match they would have expected to win comfortably. They were very grateful for 13 saves from Igor Levshin. A slightly better save percentage from the Brazilians (they managed 25%) and we could have been looking at a shock.
Iceland 28:30 France
After a match of struggle, Iceland drew level 26:26 with about six minutes left. Whereupon France weathered the storm – which sort of fizzled out anyway – to emerge victors. They’re looking good as favourites.
Denmark 30:23 Tunisia
The match too far for Tunisia. A comfortable win for Denmark who will now face the winner of Poland v Belarus and must be careful not to be thinking about the likelihood of the semi final beyond that.
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.
So, today saw the end of the group stages and the end of the host nation’s 100% record. Spain lost 25:27 to Croatia (who maintained their own 100% record) in front of 10,000 in the Caja Magica in Madrid. Jakov Gojun was red-carded for the Croatians but two late goals from Igor Vori and Lovro Sprem saw them home after the Spaniards had led the match entering the final five minutes.
Over in Zaragoza two other 100%ers went head to head: Slovenia overturned a 30:27 deficit in the final five and a half minutes to emerge 33:30 winners and take top spot in the group.
The last two teams to progress were Belarus and Egypt. Belarus did it the easy way by overpowering Saudi Arabia in a match that was one-sided throughout. Egypt and Algeria contested the last spot through the medium of goal difference. Egypt did what they had to by beating Australia by 25 goals meaning their goal difference was 7 better than Algeria leaving the latter requiring an unlikely victory over Hungary (or draw to progress). They put in a brave performance but lost.
The results of the day were:
Belarus 33:15 Saudi Arabia; Poland 33:25 South Korea; Serbia 31:33 Slovenia
Egypt 39:14 Australia; Spain 25:27 Croatia; Hungary 29:26 Algeria
Which means that the Round of 16 draw for this section looks like:
Slovenia v Egypt
Croatia v Belarus
Hungary v Poland
Serbia v Spain
Ties to be played 21 January
It’s the final day of the group stages at the World Championships. After today every match we talk about will be an eliminator.
The last two places in the knock out rounds will be decided today. In Group C, this comes down to a straight head to head between Belarus and Saudi Arabia. Both teams have only one win in the tournament so far – and that against South Korea who have disappointed throughout – but whereas Saudi have scored only sparingly (80 goals in four games) and not really contested the matches they’ve lost, Belarus have the championship’s top scorer (Siarhei Rutenka) and blew a 5-goal half-time lead against Slovenia and weren’t embarrassed against Poland. They should have enough in defence to limit Saudi’s goalscoring and should be able to score pretty easily as well. Anything but Belarus progression would be a surprise. The match starts at 2.45pm (UK).
Group D is a bit more fiddly. In their head to head Algeria and Egypt tied. The next determiner is therefore goal difference. At the moment, Algeria are level on goal difference and Egypt are -18 but today Egypt play Australia who averaging losing by 24 points. Algeria have to face Hungary. If Egypt win by enough to go ahead of Algeria’s goal difference – and Algeria lose to Hungary then by my reckoning it is Egypt who will progress. The only sure thing is that Egypt will beat Australia by a big margin and who goes through may very well come down to how interested a Hungarian side that have already qualified manage to stay. Match times are 3.45pm for Egypt v Australia and 8.15pm for Hungary v Algeria.
The other games of the day are: in Group C, Poland against South Korea (5pm) and Serbia v Slovenia (7.15pm); in Group D, Spain v Croatia (7pm).