EHF EURO winners among sides fighting for Tokyo 2020Article
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PREVIEW: Norway are among eight European teams aiming to clinch Olympic berths at the qualification tournaments this weekend

The Tokyo 2020 Olympic lineup will be completed this weekend, as the women’s qualification events are set to determine the six remaining teams to contest the Games in July and August.

After last weekend’s men’s qualification saw five of the six places left in the competition go to European sides, eight European teams will fight to reach the women’s Tokyo 2020 competition from Friday to Sunday.

The qualification is split into three tournaments with a round-robin format, all to be played in Europe, with the top two sides in each qualifying for Tokyo 2020. Two of the tournaments feature three teams and one is comprised of four.

The successful teams will join the six already qualified for the upcoming Olympics, including two European squads: France, qualified as EHF EURO 2018 champions, and Netherlands, qualified as World Championship 2019 winners.

Tournament 1 — Llíria (ESP, SWE)

Following the withdrawal of Senegal last week, Tournament 1 will be played with three teams only — alongside Spain and Sweden, Argentina round out the group.

Both Spain and Sweden are targeting a strong Olympic qualification campaign on the back of disappointing rankings at the EHF EURO 2020 in December. Spain placed ninth, one year after reaching the World Championship final, and Sweden finished 11th. The teams met in the preliminary round at the EHF EURO, splitting the points after a 23:23 draw.

Sweden are aiming for their fourth straight participation in the Games, while Spain hope to reach the Olympics for the fourth time overall. Spain’s best result at the Olympics was the bronze medal in 2012; Sweden’s top ranking was seventh, achieved at Rio 2016.

It will be Sweden’s first major competition following the retirement of long-time attacking leader Isabelle Gulldén.

Tournament 2 — Györ (RUS, SRB, HUN)

In Györ, the story is very different for each of the European teams vying for the two Tokyo 2020 berths. Russia are the Olympic title holders, after an historic gold medal won in 2016 that was the country’s first in any women’s team sport.

Hungary hope to return to the Games for the first time since 2008, while Serbia have never qualified for the Olympics before.

Like Spain and Sweden, all three sides were disappointed with their final rankings at the EHF EURO 2020. Russia aimed to reach the semi-finals, but finished fifth, while Hungary placed 10th and Serbia 13th.

The three European teams in Györ are joined by Kazakhstan in the battle for the two Olympic berths.

Tournament 3 — Podgorica (NOR, MNE, ROU)

Current EHF EURO title holders Norway are the headliners in Tournament 3. The Scandinavian side have never participated in the Olympic qualification before, having always reached the Games based on top rankings at either World or European Championships.

Now, they will meet Montenegro and Romania in the second tournament of three teams — and only two of the sides will make it to Tokyo 2020.

Norway’s Olympic record is tough to beat. The European title holders have played seven of the last eight Games and won medals at six of those. The one time they did not take a medal, they placed fourth.

Romania have played the Olympics four times before but never consecutively. Should they qualify for Tokyo 2020, it will be the first ever back-to-back berth for the side, who would look to make up for their ninth-place finish at Rio 2016 only eight months after they clinched the World Championship bronze medal. Romania’s best Olympic ranking was fourth in the very first edition of the women’s competition in 1976.

Montenegro made their Olympic debut in their big year in 2012, clinching the silver medal then going on to win the EHF EURO that December. They were equally disappointed with their Olympic result in 2016, when they placed 11th.

See the full match schedule and more information on the Olympic qualification on the IHF website.

Photos © 2020 Anze Malovrh / kolektiffimages


TEXT: Courtney