2016 Olympics:  Women’s Team Handball Preview

Brazil celebrating their world championship in 2013.  Can the hosts also win an Olympic title?

Brazil celebrating their world championship in 2013. Can the hosts also win an Olympic title?

Tournament Format:  12 Women’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).

2015 World Championship Results: The 2015 Women’s World Championships held last December is a good, if somewhat flawed reference point for projecting the tournament favorites.  Norway won the championship with the Netherlands and Romania taking 2nd and 3rd.  Norway has also won the last 2 Olympic tournaments and is the clear favorite on paper.  The Netherlands success has been more recent, but they also have a solid team.  Russia placed 5th at the worlds, but had an 8-1 record at the tournament including a 26-25 win over Norway.  Tournament hosts Brazil finished a disappointing 12th, but this was a result of losing to a strong opponent, Romanian in the round of 16.  Having won the 2013 World Championships and being the host they surely are a team to reckon with.

2015 WC Results: Link

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

Norway               15-8
Russia                   5-1
Brazil                     7-1
Netherlands       9-1
Romania              14-1
France                  16-1
Montenegro      16-1
Spain                     16-1
Sweden               22-1
S Korea                 35-1
Angola                  2,000-1
Argentina            4,000-1

These odds seem pretty reliable to me.  I would probably give Brazil a bit better odds, though then 7-1.  (Editor’s note:  I’m writing this after Brazil’s opening win against Norway, but I’d still say this even if Brazil had lost the match.)  I would also give South Korea a little more respect as they usually perform above expectations in Olympic tournaments.

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 importance of each individual game is minimized.  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 the way these groups have been drawn it’s a virtual certainty that there will be no cakewalk opponents in the quarterfinal.

Bookmaker Odds to Win Group A

Norway              13-10
Brazil                     7-2
Montenegro      8-1
Spain                     8-1
Romania              12-1
Angola                  275-1

These odds suggest that Norway and Brazil will go 1-2, while Montenegro, Spain and Romania will battle for the other 2 quarterfinal slots.  Angola is a real longshot.  They could conceivably surprise one team, but it’s a stretch to think they could pull off two wins.

Bookmaker Odds to Win Group B

Russia                   13-8
Netherlands       7-2
France                  5-1
Sweden                8-1
S. Korea               10-1
Argentina            600-1

Much like the Group A odds, this group is projected to be Russia-Netherlands 1-2 with France, Sweden and South Korea battling for the other 2 slots and Argentina being an even longer shot than Angola.  I’ll buy into that logic.

Overall Predictions:  I would assess Norway as a virtual lock for the semifinals.  And, based on Brazil’s first game win, one has to think that Brazil will be there as well.   I’m thinking Russia will be there as well and having missed out at the last world championships I’m thinking they’ll be pretty focused in their quarterfinal match.  The other semifinal slot could belong to any of the other teams except Angola and Argentina.  And, when it comes right down to it, everything will depend on those all important quarterfinal matchups.  A lot of handball is yet to be played, but if I’ve got to predict now I’ll go with Brazil knocking off Norway in a rematch for the gold with Russia taking 3rd.