Olympic Men’s Preview

I provided my assessment on the Women’s Olympic Tournament http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.519 shortly after the draw was announced. Here’s my analysis of the Men’s Draw and my predictions on who will advance from Group play and win the Gold Medal.

The 12 teams were drawn into 2 groups of 6 teams. Odds to win the Gold Medal are in parentheses and are from Betting Odds consolidation website Bestbetting.com http://eu.bestbetting.com/handball/olympics-2008/men's/winner

[b]Group A[/b]
France (2.75 to 1)
Croatia (6 to 1)
Spain (9 to 1)
Poland (17 to 1)
China (1000 to 1)
Brazil (1000 to 1)

[b]Group B[/b]
Denmark (3.5 to 1)
Germany (7 to 1)
Russia (50 to 1)
Iceland (66 to 1)
Egypt (1000 to 1)
South Korea (1000 to 1)

The format for competition is Group round robin, followed by knockout quarter finals, semifinals and final. With the top 4 teams qualifying from each group this means that 8 teams will make the “playoffs” while only 4 teams will be relegated to playing for 9th place.

[b]Group A:[/b] Looking strictly at the odds (and I agree with them) the European sides, France, Croatia, Spain and Poland should all advance. The only outside shot is that Brazil could upset Poland. Poland has not impressed in friendly competition having recently lost two games to South Korea. Friendly matches before the Olympics, however, have been notorious for meaning little and newsgroup sites indicate that Poland was fighting jetlag and backcourt star Bielecki didn’t play in either of these matches. Still this should give Brazil some hope for a surprise. In all likelihood the four European sides will simply be jockeying for seeding in the Quarterfinals.

Predicted order of finish: 1) France, 2) Croatia, 3) Poland, 4) Spain, 5) Brazil, 6) China

[b]Group B: [/b]As in Group A, the four European teams, Denmark, Germany, Russia and Iceland are big favorites to advance. Both Egypt and South Korea, however, do stand an outside chance of advancing. South Korea can take confidence in their two recent victories against Poland and Egypt as well as their performance in 2004 where they beat both Russia and Iceland. Egypt can also look back at their victory earlier this summer against Germany. Also, Russian and Iceland are the “weakest” European sides in the tournament, so if anyone is going to crash the European party in the quarterfinals, it will be Egypt or South Korea. I’ll go out on a limb and give the Koreans the surprise quarter final slot. Being an Asian team playing in Asia has got to help.

Predicted order of finish 1) Denmark, 2) Germany, 3) Iceland, 4) South Korea, 5) Russia, 6) Egypt

[b]A note on the format: [/b] As the tournament progresses it will probably be pretty clear which 8 teams will make the quarter finals. As a result this will place less meaning on some of the games in pool play. Even worse, if a top team like France or Croatia stumbles a bit in group play to 3rd place overall in their group, the teams in the other group might not be so excited to place 2nd and face that top team in the quarterfinals. Also as France will attest from their experience in Athens, running the table with a 5-0 record in Group play means zilch if you stumble in the quarter finals to a 2-3 Russian side. So in effect, the real tournament starts in the Quarterfinals. And with 5 games over 10 days, teams will ease up in the latter stages of group play to make sure they are well rested for the 8 team knockout tournament.

[b]Gold Medal Prediction: [/b] To anyone who has followed my predictions in the last few major tournaments it will be no surprise that I’m picking France to win it all. This prediction has come up short lately, but I’m sticking with it. It’s quite simple really. If you’ve got the best court player in the world, Nikola Karabatic, the best goalie in the world, Thierry Ohmeyer, and the best defensive court player in the world, Didier Dinart, then by God, you should win the Gold Medal. And, oh by the way, the Gilles brothers, Luc Abalo, Michel Guigou , etc. aren’t too shabby either. Adding to this, they will be looking to avenge Athens and their other recent defeats. Finally, China is the home team here, so they won’t have the home court advantage excuse either that they had in their loss to Germany at the World Championships. So here’s another prediction, if France doesn’t win the Gold Medal, Head Coach, Claude Onesta will be looking for new employment.

As far as the Silver and Bronze medal, I will go with Croatian taking the Silver and Denmark the bronze. Croatian success, however, will hinge on their starting 7 staying healthy.

Earlier Women’s Olympic Preview: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.519