The World Championships are all over bar the shouting. And people are shouting about Qatar — the country you know as the dubiously selected FIFA World Cup host in 2022 but now known as the country that bought a bunch of ringers for its handball team, bought a bunch of fans for this tournament and got so many questionable calls in its favor that one beaten opponent sarcastically applauded the refs.
That was after the powers that be realized Germany wasn’t in the tournament, so Oceania champion Australia was unceremoniously dumped so the handball-watching country could get a wild card.
Like South Korea’s soccer team after the 2002 World Cup, we need to ask whether Qatar will be able to duplicate this performance away from home. You have to figure refs in Rio won’t be quite as amenable to Qatar’s whims as they were in Qatar.
That said, I’m already second-guessing myself for omitting Brazil, the only team to place in the top 16 in the last two World Championships that isn’t listed here. They were 13th in 2013, 16th this year. So they’ll have fewer performance points than anyone else on the list, but if I gave them a five-point adjustment (as I did for Poland, based on more or less a gut feeling not related to them sarcastically applauding the refs), they would move ahead of Egypt.
But they’re a long shot in any case. France has won the last two Olympics and three of the last four world championships, the last by silencing Qatar in a tense final. They’re the obvious favorites.
Denmark has been a consistent European medalist and took silver in the 2011 and 2013 Worlds. They took fifth in Qatar, rebounding from quarterfinal disappointment to win their next two games.
The team that beat Denmark is Spain, which also managed to beat Qatar in group play. They lost to France in the semifinals and dropped the third-place game to Poland.
Croatia and Germany, both perennial powers, won their groups but lost in the quarterfinals. Germany, though, has had some qualification issues in recent tournaments.
And qualifying isn’t easy. Only 12 teams make it, including host Brazil, one team from the Americas, one team from Asia, and one team from Africa. That leaves a maximum of eight teams from Europe, and any team that makes it from there has a shot at a medal.
So we’ll need to revisit this after qualification. At least one team with more than a 30 percent chance of qualifying will miss out.
Until then, here’s the chart of contenders, with projected medalists: France, Denmark, Spain.