Some excitement while we wait for the quarter-finals

the British are beginning to catch on

There have been many games, both men and women, of high quality and with plenty of emotion. But it cannot be helped: the format of the handball competition makes you wait for the quarterfinals. In several games, it has been easy to get carried away with the drama and the closeness in the result, until it occurs to you that it is almost impossible to anticipate whether the result in fact has much importance. And this is obviously very clear to the teams, which means that those who have already gained a few points show that they feel it is possible to be a bit relaxed in certain games. And after four days on the women’s side and three games for the men, we already have some clarity. To some extent this is related to the skewed draw of the groups.

In one women’s group, it may seem we have a top trio, who have beaten each other and will end up in the sequence Russia, Croatia and Brazil, if they can win their final group games. But the key match-up here is Russia-Montenegro, where a win for Montenegro would suddenly send the Russians to fourth place, while Brazil would win the group. Even if this were not to happen, it seems one must regard Brazil’s performance as particularly positive after their disappointment in the World Championship half a year ago. And there was clearly special excitement in the game where Croatia managed to beat Russia. It should also be noted that Angola and Great Britain are already out of the running.

In the other group, the tougher one, France has seemed to be the more solid team, also in a physical sense. Some may have been surprised by the Korean, but then they forget that it is Korea’s traditional specialty to come with a cohesive team precisely to the Olympic Games. By contrast, Sweden has been the real disappointment; four straight losses so far, but above all some really uninspired performances. Today’s final game was Denmark’s ‘battle for survival’ against rivals Norway. The game was dramatic, shifting between a narrow lead for Norway and a tied game. Norway scored the winning goal in the final seconds, and this means that Denmark will now join Sweden on the sidelines when we get to the quarter-finals. Frankly, this really fits the Danish performance both earlier in week and in recent time. They are not at their usual level.

The men’s ‘group of death’ has Croatia and Denmark at the top with three straight wins. Tomorrow’s game between the two is likely to determine the group winner. Denmark has not tended to make it easy for themselves, but towards the end of each game they have come through. Spain and Hungary have showed good form but without consistency. The disappointment so far is Serbia; they have looked very solid in a couple of games, but then suddenly they lost their strength and composure. Finally, Korea’s men follow the pattern of being less competitive then their women counterparts.

The other men’s group has come out as expected so far. The key game for advancement to the quarterfinal will be Argentina vs. Tunisia on the final day. Great Britain will try to ‘complicate’ things by getting a point or two against Tunisia tomorrow. Among the three traditional powers, Sweden has been the weaker partner so far. Like the women, they have not shown much fighting spirit. So it will be up to France and Iceland to settle the top two positions tomorrow.

It has really been impressive to see how the British spectators have taken to handball, showing up in large numbers and with great enthusiasm, despite the lack of success for their teams. And then, of course, each one of the other teams has had their contingent of boisterous supporters. So the atmosphere in the Copperbox Arena has really been great!