Croatia dominant in men’s preliminary roundArticle
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Seven of eight Olympic quarterfinalists expectedly come from Europe – EHF EURO silver medallist Serbia out

Croatia dominant in men’s preliminary round

The men’s Olympic tournament was as usual dominated by European teams up to now. Seven of eight quarter-finalists come from Europe; Tunisia are the only non-European team in the first part of the knock-out stage. The African champions face Croatia in their quarter-final. The remaining fixtures are all-European: Iceland v Hungary, France v Spain and Denmark v Sweden.

All quarter-finals will be played on Wednesday 8 August in the Basketball Arena.

Besides Olympic debutant Great Britain the only European to fail to qualify was EHF EURO 2012 silver medallist Serbia. They were eliminated in their decisive final duel by Hungary.

Fixtures and schedule of the men’s quarterfinals

11:00 hrs:
QF 1: Iceland (winner of group A) v Hungary (fourth in group B)

14:30 hrs:
QF 2: Spain (third in group B) v France (second in group A)

18:00 hrs:
QF 3: Sweden (third in group A) v Denmark (second in group B)

21:30 hrs:
QF 4: Croatia (winner of group B) v Tunisia (fourth in group A)

All times are local.

The winner of quarter-final 1 will face the winner of quarter-final 3 in the semi-finals.
The winner of quarter-final 2 will face the winner of quarter-final 4 in the semi-finals.
The semi-finals will be played on Friday 10 August at the Basketball Arena.

Summary Group A

Defending Olympic and world and former EHF EURO champion France surprisingly did not finish first in their group.

The team of coach Claude Onesta lost the thriller against Iceland – the re-make of the 2008 Olympic final – 29-30. France had only partly improved from their weak performances at the EHF EURO in Serbia, where they ended eleventh.

Already in their match against Tunisia they had problems, which then increased against Iceland. In the match against Sweden the Frenchmen only played well for 30 minutes and then they underperformed again.

Iceland, EHF EURO 2010 bronze medallist, were the big surprise in this group, finishing with a 100% record and five victories. First they beat Sweden, then France to become table-topper. As usual Iceland were strong, when they were able to score through their counter-attacks, they also played well in defence. However in the quarter-finals they will have a high hurdle to cross facing Hungary.

Sweden finished third after beating only the underdogs Great Britain, Tunisia and Argentina, but losing the key matches against their European opponents.

Both games were very close (32-33 against Iceland and 26-29 against France) but to count only on the strengths of their top scorers Niklas Ekberg and Kim Andersson was not enough to finish better than third. In the quarter-final, where they will meet Denmark, the Swedes are not chanceless.

Great Britain played one strong half against Iceland, being below with only two goals, but did expectedly not have any chance in this competition, losing all five matches.

Summary Group B

Until now Croatia were the measure of all things in the men’s Olympic tournament. The two-times Olympic champions dominated the tough group B and are one of the top favourites for another gold medal now.

The Balkan team won all five matches and they even taught a lesson to EHF EURO champion Denmark, clashing them 32-21. Croatia had a strong defence, the best counter attacks, but also scored from the back court positions. Serbia, Spain and Hungary were no hurdles for the team of Slavko Goluza, which is no clear favourite in the quarter-final against Tunisia.

Denmark were one of the biggest disappointments despite four victories in five matches. Not only the clear defeat against Croatia was a poor performance, but the victories against Spain, Hungary and Serbia were lucky ones. The Danes, who face Sweden in the quarter-final now, missed all the means which had made them become EHF EURO champions in January except their counter-attacks.

Spain lost deservedly against table-topper Croatia and unluckily against Denmark. But the young team improved during the tournament and had no problems to beat Hungary and Serbia. Spain could count on their powerful back court shooters and their powerhouse Julen Aguinagalde. They will now play against France in the quarter-final and they are not chanceless.

Despite having Laszlo Nagy in their squad for the first major tournament in three years, the Hungarians were not at the top level in the preliminary round.

However they knew how to secure the important victories – in their final crucial encounter against Serbia, especially goalkeeper Nandor Fazekas played brilliantly. Thanks to a 26-23 win, the Hungarians reached the quarter-final fourth ranked after losing against Spain, Denmark and Croatia.

Serbia underperformed in the preliminary round despite the fact that Darko Stanic has been the best goalkeeper so far. In contrast to their brilliant performances at the EHF EURO in January on home ground, they lacked power, speed and confidence.

After a close opening defeat against Spain (after a long-term lead) the downswing began – and ended in the final defeat against Hungary, which meant the elimination for the EHF EURO finalists.

Nine of the ten best scorers of the preliminary come from Europe. Best shooter by now is Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson (Iceland) with 36 goals ahead of Niklas Ekberg (Sweden, 34 – both former players of AG Kobenhavn) and Ivan Cupic (Croatia, 33). 

TEXT: Björn Pazen