2016 medal projections: Handball (men’s)

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.

[gview file=”http://www.sportsmyriad.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Handball-men.pdf”%5D

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Team handball: Cool sport meets cold reality

USA Team Handball video screen capture
USA Team Handball video screen capture

Like curling in the Winter Olympics, team handball (or, as the rest of the world calls it, “handball”) attracts a new wave of admirers with every Summer Olympics.

But curling maintains a foothold in the USA between Games, with plenty of Americans active on the World Curling Tour and a few players who can be competitive in World Championship and Olympic action.

Handball, on the other … um … hand, faces the same American exceptionalism soccer has faced over the years. It’s a foreign sport to us. The men’s World Championship starts Saturday, and even my six or seven hard-core readers probably didn’t know that until now. (Good news: You can watch it live … for nearly 40 Euros.)

To an extent, that’s part of the appeal for those of us seeking novel stories during the Olympics and finding great people like Iceland’s handball team.

Yet a lot of journalists, at least, have evangelized for the sport in the USA. Stefan Fatsis took up the cause in 2009, when USA Team Handball started fresh with new executives (including an MLS veteran, Steve Pastorino) and a new approach.

New leader Dieter Esch was willing to foot a lot of the bill himself. The USOC wasn’t. Esch and Pastorino tried to make it work for three years before departing. At least we were left with some nice videos:

In 2012, once again, everyone loved watching the Games. Bill Simmons wrote an ode to handball and handball player-ogling that was only somewhat patronizing. Wayne Drehs was able to convince his editor to let him do what my editors wouldn’t in 2008 — let him attend the final. And yes, Dave Barry was there.

Did USA Team Handball get a boost even without qualifying? Not exactly. Most updates from a sports federation’s CEO don’t include the words “dire financial straits.” Team Handball News takes a closer look at the sad numbers.

Want some good news? The International Handball Federation is chipping in at the grass-roots level.

I may have some more on the U.S. situation soon, but with the men’s World Championships coming up, it’s time to get …

MEDAL PROJECTION FEVER!!

Yes, with every World Championship, we’ll start piecing together medal projections for Rio 2016. Slowly.

But in the short term, we’re also going to look at the projections and Olympic results to preview events we would be watching if we could.

The basics:

  • The 2012 projections: Denmark, France, Spain.
  • 2012 reality: France, Sweden, Croatia.
  • Gold medal favorite Denmark was second in Group B behind Croatia, then lost to Sweden in the quarterfinals.
  • Bronze medal pick Spain finished third in Group B, took a 12-9 halftime lead over France in the quarterfinals but lost 23-22.
  • My guys from Iceland finished ahead of France in Group A but was upset in the quarterfinals by Hungary.

Handball doesn’t get a lot of English-language coverage. Team Handball News sees France cruising in Group A, with Denmark ahead of Iceland in Group B. Germany is rebuilding. Hungary, Spain and Croatia are in Group D? Group of Death?

2012 medal projection update: Ball sports

See the original post for projections from 16 months ago; read on for the latest (which may not have changed much):

BASKETBALL

The only major international event played since the last World Championships were the men’s and women’s European tournaments. The top four men: Spain, France, Russia, Macedonia. Women: Russia, Turkey, France, Czech Republic.

FIBA also compiles rankings that reflect all the various zonal tournaments. Top men: USA, Spain, Argentina, Greece, Lithuania, big gap. Top women: USA (by a mile), Australia/Russia (tie), giant gap, Czech Republic, Spain.

Men: The USA and Spain are clearly the front-runners. After that, the picks are more difficult. France has Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and two other NBA-affiliated players, though Joakim Noah is out injured. Great Britain has two players who passed briefly through Duke — Luol Deng and Eric Boateng. But you can’t always judge by the number of NBA or former college players. Lithuania has a lot of Euroleague experience (as well as some players U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski will know from ACC play), and Russia is built around several players from perennial power CSKA Moscow.

France (ranked 12th) may be underrated, especially when you consider that France qualified for the Olympics ahead of fourth-ranked Greece. Then Nigeria knocked out Greece in the last-chance Olympic tournament, qualifying along with Russia and Lithuania.

Brazil (#13) is certainly underrated. They finished second at the Americas qualifying tournament behind host Argentina (the USA did not participate), and they usually give the USA a tough game. Argentina beat Brazil in the neutral setting of the 2010 Worlds. But on paper, Brazil’s roster is stronger, and the history is solid.

So we’re not changing. USA, Spain, Brazil

Women: A U.S. loss would be a shocker. Australia has three straight silver medals, and the Opals return roughly half of their 2008 squad, including world-class star Lauren Jackson, though several WNBA players have moved on.

Russia was far from unbeatable in the European qualifying tournament last year, barely getting past Slovakia in the opener and losing a group-stage game to Lithuania. Belarus beat them in the next round, and Britain got within three points. They woke up and stomped everyone in the knockout stages, and no one else has given any reason to doubt the rankings, the original projection or the 2008 finish. USA, Australia, Russia

Read on …

Continue reading 2012 medal projection update: Ball sports