So it’s come to this. The final Friday of the World Championship and four teams remain to chase the ultimate prize. France have gone home, licking their wounds and looking to rebuild after a decade of domination. They’re joined by others who maybe thought they might stand a chance: bye bye Germany and Russia. Of the four who remain you could probably have picked Spain and Denmark beforehand but look at the Balkan duo of Croatia and Slovenia. They’ve both gone through by winning every game and they’re kept apart again today. This could be a day of glory or heartbreak for the former bits of Yugoslavia. (As ever: if you’re in the UK there is no TV coverage. You’ll need to subscribe at http://www.livehandball.tv or have money in a Bet365 account and access their livestreaming).
6.15pm (UK) Spain v Slovenia
These two sides have met four times competitively and Spain have won all four with an average margin of victory of 8 points. History clearly counts for nothing here though. Slovenia are nicely solid at the back and do things in a smart way when they move forward. They’re also not dependent on one player displaying effective rotation throughout matches. They don’t seem to cop too many penalties either. So whilst they’re not the most thrilling team you’ll ever see they will be hard to beat as their resolve throughout the match against Russia showed. Spain, on the other hand, are all about dynamism. Get the home crowd cheering, pounce on the fastbreaks and defend robustly when necessary. Spain had to come from behind against Germany but ended the match looking like champions. Despite the Slovenians’ undoubted ability and strengths it will feel like a surprise if Spain don’t qualify for the final today.
The bookies say: Spain by 4; Handball Views says: Closer than that but a Spain win
8.30pm Denmark v Croatia
Croatia set their stall out within a minute against France: Drago Vukovic getting a red card for a decapitation. They ‘kept France honest’ throughout the match from that point on. Some solid goalkeeping at the start from Alilovic helped Croatia establish a lead and then, even though the French defence began to restrict Croatia to distance shots, the defence was strong enough to keep them ahead. Nine goals from Domagoj Duvnjak also helped. Croatia will need the same strength and ‘grit’ again today. Denmark are frighteningly good when they click but prone to losing their concentration. They managed to turn a comfortable lead over Hungary in the quarter final into a match requiring a decisive throw from Henrik Møllgaard to douse a Hungarian revival. There’s no doubting their chops, just their focus. History is no guide: 15 meetings this decade and it’s as even a split as possible. This could be very interesting.
The bookies say: Denmark by 1; Handball Views says: Croatia, just.
The final will be on Sunday; losers get to play again for bronze tomorrow.
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
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).
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.
The last day of action in Groups A and B sees two matches out of the six that are head to head to battles that will determine progression. The rest are dead rubbers – although group rankings obviously impact on who teams will face in the knock out stages. Just to repeat myself: to see any of these games go to either livehandball.tv or Bet365.com. There is no UK TV coverage.
The non-essential games are (all times UK): 5.15pm unbeaten France against variable Germany; 7.45pm eliminated Montenegro against qualified Brazil (both Group A) – and 2.45pm 2-1-1 Russia against 0-5 Chile; 7.15pm cruise control Denmark against already through Macedonia (both Group B).
The match that matters in Group A is Argentina versus Tunisia and it’s on at 3pm. Argentina opened with a good win against Montenegro but since then have lost to Brazil, Germany and France by reasonable margins. Tunisia are in the bizarre position of having beaten Germany and run France close but still facing elimination after they came unstuck against Brazil. A draw will be good enough to put Tunisia through but if Argentina win then as head to head is (apparently) the first determiner they will progress as both teams will have four points. I’m still backing Tunisia but they will need to solidify at the back and bully Argentina as they almost bullied France. Argentina sleepwalked through the match against France but will be stronger today. It should be a good one.
In Group B it really should be a comfortable win for Iceland over Qatar (starts 5pm). The only reason for thinking otherwise is that Qatar have been okay when it comes to attack so should score enough to keep the match interesting and that Iceland have been wobbly in crunch moments both in this tournament and in the Olympics (remember back to their penalty miss that would have won the match against Hungary). If we get to the last stages and its close we could see nervousness and that might produce the upset. A draw will see Iceland through – if Qatar win then both teams will have four points so they should progress on the head to head.
We’re now on to Match Day 4 for Groups A and B. After today things may be settled for some in terms of elimination and progression. Remember that it’s the top four from six who make it to the knock out rounds – and that if you want to watch you’ll have to do it online as there’s no UK TV bothering to show any of the tournament.
Group A begins with Brazil against Tunisia at 3pm. The Brazilians have a solitary win against their rivals Argentina to their name whereas their opponents scared France before beating Germany and Montenegro. If it goes to form this should be the game that secures Tunisia’s passage to the knock out matches. That’s followed at 5.30m by a must win game for Montenegro against Germany. The Montenegrin men would have been hoping to emulate their female compatriots but three losses from three means they need to beat Germany today and then do the same against Brazil. I don’t fancy their chances against a German side that hasn’t looked great so far but must surely improve. Last up in Granollers at 7.45pm France’s leisurely jaunt into the elimination rounds continues with what should be a comfortable win against Argentina.
Meanwhile in Seville the three games in Group B start with Macedonia v Russia at 2.45pm. Both teams have played two and lost one and with a group containing Chile and Qatar that should be more than enough to see them into the next round as one of the top four in the group. I don’t expect fireworks but the match should be close. At 5pm it is the confrontation between the aforementioned basement pair. Qatar are hosting the next World Championship and given that they don’t seem to have had too many issues in finding the net I’d make them slight favourites today. The bookies and people who know what they’re talking about may disagree. Finally, at 7.15pm, the group’s top two meet. Denmark have three from three compared to Icelands two and one record. Iceland’s loss against Russia came when they lost focus in the final stages of the match. I wouldn’t be surprised with something similar today: a tight game which the Danes win by staying the distance better.
A few things to note from today: Tunisia made it 2 wins from 3 with a close-fought victory over Montenegro; Spain became the first team to pass 100 goals in the tournament – and then Denmark joined them; Algeria and Egypt played out another draw (they also drew in last year’s Africa Championships); Poland have the noisiest supporters.
Also, the following teams have three wins from three: France, Denmark, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Croatia.
Group A: Tunisia 27:25 Montenegro; Germany 31:27 Argentina; France 27:22 Brazil
Group B: Qatar 22:29 Russia; Macedonia 19:23 Iceland; Denmark 43:24 Chile
Group C: South Korea 20:26 Belarus; Serbia 30:20 Saudi Arabia; Slovenia 25:24 Poland
Group D: Algeria 24: Egypt; Spain 51:11 Australia; Croatia 30:21 Hungary
It was a day when the underdogs didn’t really growl very loudly.
Group C: South Korea 27:34 Slovenia; Belarus 28:34 Serbia; Saudi Arabia 14:28 Poland
Group D: Algeria 20:31 Croatia; Egypt 24:29 Spain; Australia 13:43 Hungary