Eight European Men’s teams fight for their tickets to London.
Olympic Qualification Tournaments in Europe
It is their last chance to book tickets to London 2012 - it is crunch time for the London 2012 Men’s Olympic Handball Tournament.
Twelve nations compete this weekend (6-8 April) in three venues for the last six places for the London 2012 Men’s Olympic Handball Tournament (28 July - 12 August 2012) with the two best ranked teams from each of those tournaments qualifying through to London.
In total eight teams from Europe are many observers' favourites roles for proceeding through to London. Thanks to their ranking at the 2011 World Championship, Spain, Sweden and Croatia are the hosts of those tournaments – and the national handball federations have chosen Alicante (Spain), Gothenburg (Sweden) and Varazdin (Croatia) as host venues for the tournaments.
The way to those tournaments were quite different for the participating nations – six qualified from the 2011 World Championship in Sweden, six from their Continental Qualifications Tournaments like EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia.
In 2008 the tournaments took place in Poland, France and Croatia – and all three hosts qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. Aside from this, three additional European teams (Iceland, Russia and Spain) booked their tickets to China ahead of teams like Argentina, Tunisia (this year already qualified as continental representatives) or Japan and Algeria (both again qualified for the Olympic Qualification Tournaments).
Tournament 1 (in Spain):
Spain qualified as Bronze medallist of the 2011 World Championship in Sweden. If the Iberians make their way to London they are part of the Olympics for the 10th time – their best results were two Bronze medals in 2000 and 2008.
Serbia surprised as host of EHF EURO 2012 – taking the silver medal and the first continental place for Europe in the Olympics Qualification process. Since splitting from Montenegro it is the first chance for the Serbs to proceed to the Olympics. Top stars like Darko Stanic or Momir Ilic have to show that they are not only strong with the loud support at home – especially in the duels with Spain and Poland.
The Polish team, which ranked fifth in Beijing, was the last to take the berth for those tournaments, waiting until the final whistle of the EHF EURO 2012 Final (won by Denmark against Serbia). If Serbia would have become European champion (and in this case would have qualified directly for London) Poland would have been out. As Denmark took a direct qualification, the team of coach Bogdan Wenta qualified as the eighth-ranked team of the 2011 World Championship.
Algeria is the underdog in this tournament in Alicante. The north Africans – four-time Olympic participant in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1996 – qualified as silver medallist of the African championship after losing the final against Tunisia. In the semi-finals in Rabat, Morocco, Algeria surprisingly eliminated Egypt.
Tournament 2 (in Sweden):
Three European teams and one from Pan America go for two tickets in the nearly sold-out Scandinavium in Gothenburg. The venue of the 2011 World Championship will fit up to 20,000 handball fans in three days – all of them hoping to see their team to go on to London.
The three straight times Olympic Silver medallists (1992, 1996, 2000) is eager to proceed, as Sweden missed the last two Olympics in Athens and Beijing. In 2008 they were eliminated in a nail-biting thriller against Iceland with a last second goal. With nearly all their top stars (except Jonas Källman) on board, the Swedes hope to continue the success they had 14 months ago finishing fourth at their 'home world championship'.
Hungary qualified as the seventh-ranked team of the 2011 World Championship. In their Olympic history (seven participations) the Hungarians have missed a medal four-times, ranking fourth each time.
FYR Macedonia is another surprise team – and for them a ticket to London would mean the first ever team sports participation at Olympics for the Balkan country with two million inhabitants. The Macedonians – led by their world star Kiril Lazarov - qualified for this tournament as fifth ranked team of EHF EURO 2012 leaving behind teams like Germany, France, Russia, Iceland and Poland.
After four straight tickets to the Men’s Olympic handball tournament the Brazilians now have to march through the qualification after losing the final of the Pan American Qualification in Guadalajara against Argentina. Due to the tough opponents from Europe, the 21st ranked team of the 2011 World Championship is only in an outsider position.
The only tournament where three continents face each ther is played in the 2009 World Championship venue in Varazdin. The host – 1996 and 2004 Olympic champion – is in the favourite role together with the team from Iceland. Both met in the 5/6 placement match of the 2011 World Championship, closely won 34:33 by the Croats, which secured the right to host a Qualification Tournament.
Both teams faced each other during EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia, too, when the Croats won 31:29. In the end, the Balkan team secured the bronze medal, whilst Iceland ranked 10th. At the 2008 Olympics both teams were semi-finalists, but as Iceland beat Spain (and took thesilver medal in the end), Croatia failed against France and also missed the bronze medal due to a defeat against Spain in Beijing.
Four-time Olympic participant Japan qualified as second ranked team of the Asian Olympics Qualification after losing the final against host Korea in Seoul. They ranked 16th in the 2011 World Championships in Sweden – six places ahead of Chile. The South Americans ranked third at the Pan American Olympics Qualification after beating Dominican Republic 27:24. Pan America received a second continental place for the Men’s Olympic Qualification Tournaments as Argentina was the best Non-European team at the 2011 World Championship, ranking 12th in the end.
TEXT: Björn Pazen
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