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
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.
In the end, it was a pretty interesting day’s play. As expected, Iceland got past Qatar easily enough to book their passage into the last 16 and enter the knock out rounds but it was a pretty tense and brutal affair in the other head-to-head eliminator. Tunisia put out Argentina in the Olympics and they repeated the act again today. The first half was bizarre with poor shooting throughout and it finished 7:6 to Tunisia. In the second half both teams gelled better and there was a lot of ‘strong’ defence from Tunisia that drew the referee’s attention but they were smart enough to draw ‘only’ five two minute suspension. They won in the end 22:18 with Ben Salah top-scoring with 5 goals.
In the matches that ‘didn’t matter’ there was the small matter of pride and placement to play for. This was best shown by the Germans who, after a wobbly path to qualification, put in a sterling day’s work to end France’s 100% record and, almost perversely, take top spot in the group. Denmark, also contenders with a 100% record, did comeback having trailed Macedonia into the second half. The noisy, bright fans from the Former Yugoslav Republic had to make do with thoughts of what might have been.
In the last match of the day Montenegro had about as good a shot as they could have hoped for to end their barren run and get some championship points. They overturned a 10:11 deficit against Brazil (who incidentally were wearing the worst handball kit I’ve ever seen) but couldn’t stay ahead, eventually losing 26:25. That result means Brazil, who finished 2nd in the Pan-American Championship last season, have won three of their five group matches.
The day’s results were:
Group A: Argentina 18:22 Tunisia; France 30:32 Germany; Montenegro 25:26 Brazil
Group B: Russia 36:24 Chile; Iceland 39:29 Qatar; Denmark 33:30 Macedonia
And this means that this is how this section of the draw looks like in the round of 16:
Germany v Macedonia
Denmark v Tunisia
Iceland v France
Brazil v Russia
These ties will be played on Sunday.