Olympic Qualifying Day 2: Only 1 Olympic ticket left to be punched

Nikcevic's fast break goal in closing seconds bails out Serbia

Five of the six remaining Olympic bids are now known as victories by Sweden, Hungary, Croatia, Iceland and Spain on Saturday made their qualification a mathematic certainty.

Only Tournament 1 has any major suspense left as Serbia and Poland’s 25-25 draw means that both those teams still have hopes of qualifying.  A tight affair throughout it appeared that Poland was pulling away when they secured a 25-22 lead with just under four minutes remaining.  But Poland did not score another goal for the remainder of the match and Serbia’s Ivan Nikcevic’s fast break goal with 5 seconds left brought the game level at 25-25 all.

In Tournament 2, Hungary fought off a pesky Brazil side for a narrow, 29-27 win.  The win assured that Hungary will advance to London.  In the second match, the home team, Sweden held off Macedonia for a 27-23 win.  The big difference was Right Back, Kim Andersson who delivered 3 straight goals from long range around the 52 minute mark to erase any Macedonian comeback hopes.  Hats off, though to the Macedonians players and fans.  With the exception of Lazarov, they have a pretty significant talent gap compared to the Swedes and Hungarians.  And without question, they’ve got the best fans.  Whether they traveled in force or were made up of resident emigrants living in Sweden they pretty much eliminated the home court advantage.  I’ve never seen that done on the road like that before in European handball.

Tournament 3 was no surprise as Croatia and Iceland had easy victories over Chile and Japan.

Scenarios for Sunday

Tournament 1 current standings

Spain 2-0-0 4 Points
Poland 1-1-0 3 Points; +1 GD
Serbia 0-1-1 1 Point; -3 GD
Algeria 0-0-2 0 Points

Serbia and Algeria will play the first match on Sunday and while Algeria was able to give the Poles a tough match it’s hard to see Serbia not winning by at least 4 goals.  With a victory by that many goals Serbia will have the goal differential needed to take 2nd in the group should Poland lose to Spain in the second match.  And  Poland will then need to draw or beat Spain in order to qualify for the Olympics.

And then the big question, especially for conspiracy theorists, will be just how hard will Spain play since they’ve already qualified?  Fortunately, for Serbia the Spaniards will not totally be without incentive as seeding for the Olympic draw is still at stake.  A first place in the group will put them on the same rank as World Champions, France, while 2nd place will pair them with Great Britain.  So, if Spain wins or draws tomorrow against Poland they will avoid France in group play at the Olympics.  Whereas losing means they will avoid Great Britain.  Of course, 4 teams advance out of Group Play at the Olympics, making the Olympic draw less paramount. So, the Spaniards will have a little incentive, but for the Poles it will be do or die which should make for an interesting contest.  At least the bookies think so, as the line for the match tomorrow is a pick-em.

Tournaments 2 and 3 are essentially over in that the Olympic participants are now known.  In tournament 2, Sweden and Hungary will play to decide who gets first and second, while in Tournament 3, Croatia and Iceland will do the same.  In terms of incentive for the Olympic draw these four teams will be split off into two performance rows (the 2 group winners will be paired as will the 2nd place qualifiers).  Croatia is probably the strongest of the four teams, so the Sweden-Hungary winner can probably expect to be paired with Croatia, assuming they take care of Iceland.