The World Handball Championships have reached the quarterfinals. LIVE at 12:05 PM ET Wednesday on beIN SPORT Espanol. By Bogdan Pasat.
By Bogdan Pasat
As we prepare for the 2013 World Championship quarterfinal matches, many fans justifiably felt that the Round of 16 lacked the drama typically associated with a winner-takes-all game. I happen to agree.
As I skim across this tournament’s statistics and records, I cannot help but wonder what is going on with the rest of the handball world.
The knockout round featured only one non-European country -- Brazil . The others were sent packing to the “loser's bracket,” or the politically correct “ President’s Cup,” if you will.
As team handball continues its ascend to global prominence, those in charge of the sports’ future must ensure that proliferation plans include the rest of the world, not just Europe. So what can we expect from Wednesday’s quarterfinals? Let’s break those games down, shall we?
Russia v Slovenia (Barcelona)
Russia is one of the few remaining teams which is fairly unpredictable. A squad that is in transition and who feature a new head coach, a new philosophy and a new core of players. Slovenia , on the other hand, surprised many with its consistency and veteran play. The team relies on a quartet of players who make French Ligue Nationale de Handball their professional home.
Winning Group C ahead of Poland, Serbia and Belarus is no longer that big of a surprise, considering how inconsistent those three were. And neither was the beating they gave Egypt in the Round of 16.
Yet nobody can argue with how consistent and precise Slovenia has played and how they must now be considered a serious threat to the podium.
If Russia plays the way it played against Brazil, they will go home.
Slovenia can be beaten but they will not beat themselves. Goalies Prost and Skof along with right winger Dragan Gajic give Slovenia a safe and secure balance between their defense and offense.
If Slovenia can pace themselves and can tire the Russians out – they will be semifinal bound. I think they can do it. Slovenia by 4.
Spain v Germany (Zaragoza)
Germany, much like Russia is a team in transition. A generational change and Heiner Brandt’s exit from the head coaching role, have given new head coach Martin Heuberger the opportunity to build a new German dynasty. Built around pivot Oliver Roggisch and left winger Dominik Klein, the 2007 World Champions matured well during preliminary group play. Their loss to Tunisia and eventual upset of France, showed how far the Germans have come. What they still lack in experience, they make up for it with discipline, desire, hunger and patience.
As the host, Spain boasts home field advantage and an impressive veteran roster that is not very old. Spain also features a sanguine lineup who can adapt on the fly. The loss to Croatia in the prelim rounds exposed the Spaniards’ lack of urgency and execution. Their reliance on one or two players on offense – can sometimes upset their rhythm and efficacy.
Germany will need to be patient and to find a way to overcome the pro Spain raucous crowds. And if Spain fails to capitalize on the adrenaline rush – Germany could produce another shocking result.
I like Spain by 2. Experience and crowd support will be decisive.
Denmark v Hungary (Barcelona)
Quarterfinal number 3 features the current European Champs, Denmark, against one of the most inconsistent teams of the tournament in Hungary.
Hungary will of course gladly accept that attribute. After all it got them into the quarterfinals, despite some head scratching preliminary round matches. Late game collapses in losses to Spain and Croatia gave the impression that Hungary may be a fraud, in an expectation kind of way.
There is no denying their talent. Hungary can look intimidating, especially when veteran center back Gabor Szaszar and right back Laszlo Nagy are on. Add Pick Szeged goalie Roland Mikler to the mix and you’ve got stars at all the right positions.
The only bad news for the Magyars is that they take on Denmark, who, despite a lackluster London Olympics performance following their 2012 European title, have played the most consistent handball in this tournament. And save for maybe only France, the Danes feature one of the deepest and most experienced rosters.
Denmark has balanced scoring from every position. Wingers Anders Eggert and Hans Lindberg will wear out defenses. And when they’re done tormenting the opposition, 25 year old left back superstar Mikkel Hansen will take over the game. Niklas Landin can stop shots with the best of them, and he’s only 24 years old.
Denmark finished the preliminary group undefeated and will continue to remain so. Denmark by a handful will cruise into the semis.
France v Croatia (Zaragoza)
So where do I start?
Two of the most decorated teams of the past 16 years who’ve seemed to defy generational changes, will look to knock each other out, yet again.
France, the undisputed number 1 team in the world is the only one to have held the Olympic, European and World Championship Gold at the same time. If there ever was an international team handball dynasty – France is it.
A project started by hall of fame coach Daniel Constantini in the 90s continues today under the guidance of Claude Onesta. France features a roster full of proven superstars who possess impressive individual skills at every position. France could easily field two World Championship caliber squads at a moment’s notice.
Yet, talent and experience does not always translate into guaranteed success. Egos, injuries, cyclical form – can wreak havoc amongst the very best. And France is not immune to it. Such was the case at the 2012 Euros, when France finished 11th. But Karabatic, Abalo, Narcisse, Omeyer, Fernandez and Accambray – proved their worth in gold, when they finished 1st at the London Olympics.
Croatia’s record is right behind France’s. If France is gold then Croatia is silver. Literally and figuratively.
Not as deep as the French, Croatia is just as talented and savvy. And despite playing without superstar center back Ivano Balic, Croatia managed to beat Spain in the prelims and secure the number 1 seed, joining Slovenia and Denmark as the only teams to go undefeated in the group stages.
This contest is as even as it gets. And much like most competitive handball games, this one will be decided late. If France can mesh well and keep their intensity on defense – they will be impossible to beat. Normally, the French goalie tandem of Omeyer and Karaboue would be enough to intimidate opponents. However, they’ve both been average so much so that Croatia’s Mirko Alilovic gives his team the edge at the position. Winger Ivan Cupic and pivot Igor Vori will need help from left backs Strlek and Lackovic – if Croatia is to overcome the deep French roster.
This one could go to overtime. And for some reason I like France’s depth – although their physical conditioning left a lot to be desired. Still, France by a hair.