In addition to crowning a champion of Europe, the European Championships (EC) will also finish the sorting out of which nations will still have a chance to qualify for the Olympic Games at 3 upcoming Olympic Qualification Tournaments that will be played 6-8 April. Additionally, the final ranking will also determine which nations will host and which nations will play in each tournament.
As it currently stands the three tournaments are:
1) Denmark (Host), Hungary, Europe #2, Africa #2
2) Spain (Host), Iceland, Brazil, Europe #3
3) Sweden (Host), Croatia, Japan, Chile
However, as Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Hungary, Iceland and Croatia all have a good chance of securing the European automatic qualification slot it’s pretty likely that this current composition won’t hold up. As it stands only 3 nations (Brazil, Japan and Chile) are locked into a tournament, but even those nations can’t be sure where and against whom they will play.
To further explain let’s break down the ramifications for each of the participating nations
France: Already directly qualified as the World Champion; France’s final ranking doesn’t count in determining the placement of any other nation.
Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Croatia, Iceland and Hungary: These nations placed 2nd to 7th at the 2011 World Championships and have already secured an Olympic Qualification Tournament bid. If any of these nations win the EC or place 2nd to France they will directly qualify for the Olympics and won’t have to play in an Olympic Qualification Tournament. Should that happen the nations that placed behind the EC Direct Qualifier each move up one spot based on their final ranking at the WC. This is where it gets a little convoluted for each of these nations as moving up isn’t necessarily a good deal in terms of who you will play against in an Olympic Qualification Tournament. Breaking it down further here’s the impact of shuffling a spot for each of these nations.
Denmark: Can’t move up. They either get the EC Direct Qualification spot or host tourney #1
Spain: Moves from hosting Tourney #2 to hosting Tourney #1
Sweden: Moves from hosting Tourney #3 to hosting Tourney #2
Croatia: Moves from participating in Tourney #3 to hosting Tourney #3
Iceland: Moves from participating in Tourney #2 to participating in Tourney #3
Hungary: Moves from participating in Tourney #1 to participating in Tourney #2
As we’ve pointed out numerous times before, as long as Europe dominates the world of Handball the seeding of these tournaments doesn’t make any sense because the lowest seeded tournament (Tourney #3) only has two European participants. (Translation: Unless there is an epic upset by Japan or Chile the two European nations assigned to Tournament 3 are going to the Olympics. It’s good to be in Croatia or Iceland’s shoes. Not so good to be in Sweden’s)
Poland: Poland placed 8th at the 2011 WC, so they have 3 ways of qualifying for the Olympics. They can 1) win the EC, 2) earn an Olympic Qualification Tourney slot (should Denmark, Spain, Sweden, Croatia, Iceland and Hungary win the EC direct qualification slot) or 3) earn the Europe #2 or Europe #3 slot
Serbia, Slovakia, Germany, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Russia, Norway and Slovenia: These nations have 2 ways to qualify. They can either 1) win the EC or 2) earn the Europe #2 or Europe #3 slot. As the WC qualification slots take precedence over the EC qualification slots there is a sort of mini-tournament among the nations in this group. In other words, whichever 2 nations place the highest amongst this group will earn the #2 Europe and #3 Europe slots. (The only exception to this would be if one of these nations wins the EC; at which point Poland would no longer have a WC slot and would join the group competing for an EC slot.)
The first step for these nations will be to make it out of the preliminary rounds. Once that goal is accomplished their goal will be to finish as high as possible in their Main Round Group. Of course, the goal will be to advance to the semifinals, but barring that success it’s pretty likely that a 3rd place finish will qualify a nation for an Olympic Qualification Tourney. A 4th place or even a 5th place may suffice as well or at least set up a 7th or 9th placement match against a nation from the other group for the last Europe slot.
In this regard, the nations in Main Round Group I (Groups A and B) have a distinct advantage over the nations in Main Round Group II (Groups C and D). This is because Group I has only 3 nations (assuming Poland moves up) that have already qualified via the WC results, vice Group II which has 5. So by default, the worst one of these nations can place in Group I is 4th. Projecting results is never safe, but this is why the match between Germany and the Czech Republic is so critical, as could be the matches those nations might play against Serbia in the Main Round.