It is discouraging to see that, year after year, we cannot find any newcomers from outside Europe among the top teams. Brazil, Angola and Korea are there, and Japan also qualified for the ’round of 16; simply because there were no more than 12 European participants. We now hear rumors that the budget of the International Handball Federation (IHF) could expect a major increase, due to very favorable TV rights contract with Al-Jazeera. Let us hope that finally this will ‘force’ the IHF to spend a more appropriate amount of resources on helping the federations which perennially seem to be next in line to move up and compete with the Europeans. Yes, the newest and weakest federations must also get more help, but for the sake of the image and credibility of handball as a global sport, the priority must be to expand rapidly the ‘middle class’.
We now had a situation where 13 games were won by a margin of at least 20 goals and another 14 games were won by 10 to 19 goals. This should not happen in an elite event. The average goal difference in a game was just about 11 goals! We saw results such as 51-20, 44-21 (twice) and 40-6. And we had a half-time result of 14-0, when the Paraguay team was held scoreless for 32 minutes by their Spanish opponents. By contrast, there were no ties, and only four games (out of 60) were decided by a one-goal margin.
But it could be argued that among the top four teams in each group, there was some excitement in the fight regarding the internal ranking, which determines the likely strength of the opponents in the ’round of 16′ and the path towards the medals. In Group A, France came out ahead, after probably having worried about each of their three pursuers. Montenegro has not shown the same positive spirit as when they won EURO2012, but they managed to come in second. Korea seems far from their old level of medal contenders. In Group B, the top three positions were settled in the very last group game, where Brazil shocked Denmark by grabbing a large early lead which they managed to maintain until the end. This meant that the Serbian hosts got the second place, while Denmark amazingly had to accept third place.
Group C went to the favorites from Norway, followed by Spain, Poland and Angola, even though the Norwegians never looked really convincing so far. In Group D, it was probably a surprise to some that an injury-plagued Germany would manage to beat all the three European opponents. But those teams generally seemed weaker than expected, and especially Hungary was a disappointing shadow of what they have shown during many years now. One gets the impression that it is difficult for many of the European teams to be in top form for a championship every year. Integrating new players and coping with injuries makes it tough.
This leaves us with the following match-ups for the ’round of 16′: in the top half we have Brazil-Netherlands, with the winner playing the winner of Spain-Hungary in the quarterfinal; similarly we have the pairings Denmark-Montenegro and Germany-Angola. In the bottom half, we have first Serbia-Korea and next to them Norway-Czech Republic; in the final quarter of the draw that leaves us with Romania-Poland and France-Japan. About half of these match-ups really would seem to suggest intensive battles. The old Olympic finalists from Denmark and Korea will have to watch out for the local favorites from Montenegro and Serbia. But I will now be brave and predict that in the semifinals we will have a revenge opportunity between Brazil and Denmark and then a repetition of the 2011 final between Norway and France. What Is your prediction?