2016 Olympics:  Men’s Team Handball Preview

The World's best court player and the world's best goalie.  Why would you predict any other side to win?

The World’s best court player and the world’s best goalie play for France which took gold in 2008 and 2012. Why would you predict any other side to win?

Tournament Format:  12 Men’s teams will be competing in the Olympics and preliminary play will consist of a round robin competition in 2 groups of 6.  The top 4 teams in each group will then advance to a knock out tournament consisting of quarter finals, semifinals, and finals (gold and bronze medal games).

Recent Results: The 2016 European Championships held this past January and the 2015 Men’s World Championships held in January 2015 are the most relevant recent reference points.  France won the World Championship with Qatar taking 2nd and Poland 3rd.   The more recent European Championships were won by a surprising German side which played excellent defense with a roster which featured several younger players.  Spain, which surprising failed to qualify for the Olympics placed 2nd and Croatia took 3rd.   France which has usually been in the semifinals of every major tournament finished a disappointing 5th.

2015 WC Results: Link

2016 EC Results: Link

Bookmaker Odds to Win Gold:  Below are the pre-tourney odds for each team to win the gold medal

France                  7-5
Denmark             7-2
Croatia                  7-1
German               10-1
Poland                  18-1
Qatar                     22-1
Slovenia               25-1
Sweden                28-1
Brazil                     50-1
Tunisia                  300-1
Egypt                     500-1
Argentina            2,000-1

These odds seem pretty accurate to me.  I would probably give Brazil, Tunisia and Egypt odds that are a bit closer to the lower tier European sides.  It’s hard to see them winning gold, but they can play with the Europeans.  Argentina could to, but minus injured star Diego Simonet they will likely not win a match.

Assessing Group Play:  First a few thoughts on the format.  Because 4 out of 6 teams will move on to the all important knockout tournament the first goal is simply to make it out of Group play.  Yes, a higher placement in the group should improve the odds that you will have a weaker quarterfinal opponent, but all too often this has not been the case.  And with Group A being a lot stronger (on paper) it could really be the case in this tournament.

Bookmaker Odds to Win Group A

France                  5-4
Denmark             11-4
Croatia                  5-1
Qatar                     10-1
Tunisia                  55-1
Argentina            225-1

I’ll start from the bottom and point out that Argentina will likely lose all 5 matches.  The next question, then is whether Tunisia can crack its way into the top 4.  I think they will put up a good fight in a couple of matches, but I don’t see them qualifying for the quarterfinals.  And, as previously discussed this is a ridiculously strong group.  France, Denmark, Croatia and Qatar could each win their quarterfinal match against their opponents coming from Group B.  Yes, Group A could simply be some friendly match previews of the semifinals when the outcomes will really count.

Bookmaker Odds to Win Group B

Germany             9-4
Poland                  7-2
Slovenia               7-2
Sweden                6-1
Brazil                     11-1
Egypt                     110-1

In my opinion this group is totally wide open with every side having a legitimate shot at reaching the quarterfinals.  The German wall in defense was very effective at the European Championships and they along with Poland should make it through.  Slovenia and Sweden, however, should watch out for Brazil and Egypt.  In fact, I think hosting will help propel Brazil to the knockout stage.

Overall Predictions:  As has been the case for the past decade or so there’s one big question.  Will France show up or not?  Basically, they win or the they somehow beat themselves.  Why is this the case?  Well, they’ve got the best player in the world, Nikola Karabatic, and the best goalkeeper in the world, Thierry Omeyer.  The supporting cast, however, isn’t quite what it used to be and that’s one of the reasons they disappointed at the recent European Championships.  I’m thinking they will show up and win their 3rd straight Olympic title.

As far as the other sides go, as I’ve implied I think Group A will sweep Group B in the quarters.  Only Germany and Poland have a decent chance.  Germany has shown they can play great defense, but I think they lack quality and consistency on the offensive end.  Poland is experienced and capable, but I also think they will come up short.

So, I’ll predict a final four of France, Denmark, Croatia and Qatar.  Qatar, as they’ve just shown with their 1st round convincing win over Croatia, is more than just a flash in the pan.  Still I think they are a bit thin depth wise and they will be a bit spent by the time the semifinals roll around.  Denmark has been a disappointment the past couple of tournaments, but they are due for a return to form.  I’ll go with France beating Denmark for Gold and Croatia beating Qatar for Bronze.