Just who is going to win Handball Gold at Tokyo 2020?

Who is going to win Handball Gold at Tokyo 2020? Photo: Olympics.com.au

Handball might be Australia's weakest team sport at the Olympics but the competition will be electric for all even without an Australian presence.

The men’s and women’s tournaments for the Handball at Tokyo 2020 are shaping up to be two very exciting competitions. For all your Olympic coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.

Australians are certainly familiar with a game by the name of handball, that is often played during recess and lunch year-round. However, when it comes to Olympic Handball the two sports could not be more different.

Historically Australia has never qualified for Handball at an away Olympics in the men’s or the women’s tournaments and in Sydney both sides failed to win a match.

Handball entered the Olympics in 1936 however, it didn’t become a mainstay event until Munich 1972 and has been dominated by the Europeans ever since, the only nation to consistently medal across the men’s and women’s events is South Korea, who won Gold in the women’s tournament in 1988 and 1992.

So what is handball?

Handball is an action-packed and fast-paced sport where two teams of seven attempt to outscore one another by passing, throwing and dribbling the ball down the court.

A game is divided into two 30-minute halves, with each team permitted able to make unlimited substitutions throughout the match. Teams can call for three one minute timeouts per game, with referees able to call timeouts at their own discretion for injuries, suspensions and court cleaning.

It is played on a court that is 40 metres long and 20 metres wide with a D-shaped goal area six metres in front of the goal. There is then a secondary arc that extends a further three metres.

Only the goalkeeper is permitted inside the six-metre arc with the ball. Should another player enter the goal zone without the ball they must make the most direct path out of it. If an attacking or defending player enters the one to gain an advantage it will result in the player being penalised.

The goals are two metres high and three metres wide, and players will need to throw the ball into the goal to score. The goalkeeper is not only the only player allowed to possess the ball in the goal area but they are additionally the only player allowed to use their feet.

There are several kinds of penalties, typically awarded for fouls that are directed towards the opponent rather than the ball. The clearest is the seven-metre penalty shot being awarded.

However, the referee can give out a yellow card for dangerous contact, typically players are warned once before being given a yellow card – three yellow cards will result in a red card.

Referees can also give out two-minute suspensions, similar to being placed in the penalty box in ice hockey a player will be forced to sit out for two minutes and can re-enter the game following the two minutes, provided they haven’t been red-carded.

A red card, much like football results in an immediate ejection from the game, however, the team will only serve a two-minute suspension before bringing a player from the bench onto the court.

Men’s Handball Tournament at Tokyo 2020

The men’s tournament is split into two groups of six, from each group four teams will advance to the quarter-finals. The group stage will run from July 24 until August 1, with the Gold and Bronze medal matches going ahead on August 7.

There are several key contenders in the men’s tournament at Tokyo 2020, men’s Handball is in a unique situation this year due to the World Championships going ahead back in January, as a result, there are four medal favourites for Tokyo.

In the past five years, Denmark has become a powerhouse, claiming two consecutive World Championship titles, including earlier this year.

The reigning Olympic Champions are on the cusp of creating a dynasty, while the Danish haven’t secured a European Championship since winning Olympic Gold their strong performances especially at the highest level will leave them hungry to seal this year’s Olympic Gold Medal for a second time.

The Danish have drawn Group B and will hope to emerge at the top of the group in prime position for a strong run into the medal matches. Their biggest competition in the group stage will be Sweden.

The Swedish are yet to win Olympic Gold but they’re coming in hot after a second-place finish at the World Championships. Despite never winning gold, Sweden has a long history of success and want to return to their era of dominance in the 1990s where they remained unbeaten for 25 matches.

The World Championship Final loss will have lit a fire under the Swedish and with an early game against the Danish, the victor will emerge the favourite for the remainder of the tournament.

If there’s a country that has a long and proud history at the Olympics it’s France. The French dominated the sport for the better part of 20 years, winning two Olympic Gold Medals in 2008 and 2012 and only finishing as low as sixth at the World Championships since then.

In 2016 France won silver but bounced back in 2017 to win its most recent Worlds title. In Tokyo, they’ll want 2016 to look like a blip in a dominant era in the sport.

The French may have finished fourth at this year’s World Championships but the squad includes plenty of depth including the experienced trio of Nikola Karabatić, Luc Abalo and Michaël Guigou who all know what it takes to win two gold medals at the Olympics.

Spain has been in the mix at the Olympics for the better part of two decades but has found reaching the gold medal match to be all too elusive.

Winning three bronze medals since 1996, it may have seemed like the end of an era in 2016 when they crashed out in the quarter-finals but since then the Spanish have gone on to win two European titles and bronze at the World Championships earlier this year.

The side now look like genuine medal contenders sitting in Group A alongside France, but it is certainly considered to be the more challenging of the two groups with other potential medal contenders in Germany and Norway also chances to top the group if they can get the upper hand over Spain.

Men’s Group Stage

Group AGroup B

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Women’s Handball Tournament at Tokyo 2020

Similar to the men, the women’s tournament is split into two groups of six, from each group four teams will advance to the quarter-finals. The group stage will run from July 25 until August 2, with the Gold and Bronze medal matches going ahead on August 8.

Unfortunately, the women’s IHF World Women’s Handball Championships will not go ahead until December of this year, however, three countries have continued to dominate over the past five years and stand out as medal contenders.

A key country has missed out on Olympic qualification for Tokyo 2020, which is Denmark, the only nation to win three Olympic Gold Medals in the women’s competition, winning back-to-back-to-back from Atlanta 1996 until Athens 2004.

The next best thing is fellow Scandinavian country Norway. The Norwegians are in their element at the Olympics reaching a medal match at every games they’ve qualified at, only failing to medal at Atlanta 1996.

Since winning bronze at Rio 2016, Norway has won two European Championships (2016, 2020) and silver at the World Championships in 2017.

This is a squad loaded with experience that knows how to win anywhere and everywhere and they’re determined now more so than ever to return to the top of the podium.

The women’s tournament is often won in pairs, and the Russian Olympic Committee won’t be ignored simply because of the official change in name.

It hasn’t been the easiest five years for the ROC Women’s Handball Team but the squad is not short of Olympic experience. Of the 17 member squad, eight athletes return from the team that won gold in Rio.

At the qualifying tournament earlier this year in March, the ROC dominated, not dropping a game and qualified alongside Hungary, who they will face again in the group stage in Tokyo.

The Netherlands took the heartbreak of a fourth-place finish at Rio and have gone from strength to strength since then. Claiming a medal at every World Championship and European Championship, except for the 2020 European Championships where they finished in sixth.

The squad has plenty of experience and benefits heavily from playing together regularly with six members of the side playing in the German league, four of which play for SG BBM Bietigheim, the familiarity between these players will make for excellent team chemistry and they’ll be ready to claim their first Olympic Gold.

Women’s Group Stage

Group AGroup B
South KoreaFrance

Why you should watch Handball

Despite Australia’s lack of success in the sport, Handball brings to the table a lot that Australians love about sport. The fast-paced nature means there’s always something happening, they can be high intensity and high scoring games which will excite Australians as they learn about a sport that we’re only exposed to every four years.

Another selling point as to why you should watch handball is the time slot, during the group stage, matches will often be some of the final events of the day alongside volleyball and those matches that begin at 11:30pm will be the games catered to European audiences.

As a result, you’ll see some of the best of the best playing in the late evening to finish off an action-packed day of Olympics coverage.

The Handball begins on July 24 and will run through to August 8 at Yoyogi National Stadium.

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