The groups are beginning to take shape after three rounds of action in men's handball group play. France, Denmark and Croatia all look destined to reach the QF's out of group A, while Tunisia could possibly jump Qatar in the standings. As for Group B, Slovenia officially booked their spot.
1. France: 6 points (+24 goal differential)
2. Denmark: 4 points (+11)
3. Croatia: 4 points (-3)
4. Qatar: 3 points (-8)
5. Tunisia: 1 point (-11)
6. Argentina: 0 points (-14)
1. Slovenia: 6 points (+9)
2. Germany: 4 points (+3)
3. Brazil: 4 points (+2)
4. Poland: 2 points (+3)
5. Egypt: 2 points (-8)
6. Sweden: 0 points (-9)
Group A: France (3-0) book QF spot, def. Argentina (0-3) 31-24
Nikola Karabatic and company knew they would face stiff competition against Argentina, despite what that 0-2 moniker might suggest.
The Argentines held France tough for the entire first half, finding ways to shift the French line out of position. What they couldn't find was a way to stop Luc Abalo, France's right winger, who scored seven goals in the first half alone. His presence on the wing, complemented by Valentin Porte's equal threat on the opposite wing (not to mention somehow defending Nikola), left the Argentinan squad deciding what best way to minimize the scoring threat, and they guessed wrong. Though they held their own in the middle of the court, that added cushion left sizable chunks for Luc Abalo to pick apart.
The right winger happily obliged, too. France created seven shots from either wing in the first half.
Argentina were actually the more aggressive side, looking to create as many opportunities as they could. But they challenged Thierry Omeyer, the greatest keeper in the world, and lost, as he saved 45% of Argentina's strikes. France were much more effective in scoring and led the half by five, despite creating seven fewer shots.
Argentina carried the aggressive playmaking well into the second half, keeping France and Abalo within check.
But, as is most cases with France, other players are more than capable of picking up the pace when others fall short. Abalo made up ground for Karabatic, and Daniel Narcisse and Michael Guigou picked it up for Porte and Abalo. Stellar playmaking continued from that French backline that Argentina struggled to get through, generating the turnover and the subsequent fast break.
What's plagued Argentia for this whole tournament is the incapability of being able to hold on, of running out of steam as the match wore on. And that's what happened tonight. They just didn't have enough in them to contain all of the ways that France can punish its opponents.
Group B: Sweden (0-3) effectively eliminated following 24-29 defeat to Slovenia (3-0)
Slovenia became the first team to virtually clinch a QF berth in the men's handball competition, and Sweden became the first to effectively clinch relegation.
Sweden entered play, astoundingly, needing to record a win against Slovenia to keep their Olympic hopes alive. The four-time silver medalists were surprised by both Germany and Egypt in their first two matches.
Anything other than a win wouldn't be good enough.
It was a scrappy fair as both sides drew several yellow cards and suspensions early. They got off to a good start in the first half, opening an early 4-1 lead following Slovenia's Dean Bombac's two minute suspension.
Blaz Janc, Slovenia's young super star, saw to evaporate Germany's early advantage with a strike from the right wing. Sweden were gifted another power play late in the first half but the Slovenian defense hung tough, preventing Jerry Tollbring to maneuver his way into free space.
Things fell apart quickly for Sweden, who came out flat in the second half of play. Loose defense paved the way for Slovenia to be gifted power plays. Slovenia immediately opened the lead to six goals, which they'd easily maintain to clinch their spot in the QF's.
Group B: Chiuffa, Brazil (2-1) down Germany (2-1) 33-30
Brazil rocked Future Arena in the second match of the afternoon session on Thursday afternoon.
Brazil got off to a much hotter start this time around than in their loss to Slovenia earlier this week, jumping off to a quick 5-3 lead.
The strategy of pushing a little bit more forward on defense worked well agaisnt Germany, who struggled to get inside the six meter line. The pressure forced the Germans to turn the ball over and surrender the fast break, much to the delight of the loud Brazilian crowd in attendance.
Germany expertly found their footing, continuing their strategy of finding opportunities from the wing, going four-for-four from that position in the opening 20 minutes of play to reverse the two goal advantage. Tobias Reichmann and Germany pummeled them on the fast break and wing.
But Brazil, lifted by Fabio Chiuffa, hung tight with the Germans following a cold spell in shooting. Soon, Brazil found themselves up at the half following an empty net goal on a turnover.
Chiuffa finished the game with eight goals.
Germany were quick to put the first half behind them and continued to look for chances on the wing and on the fast break, disrupting the Brazilian rhythmn established by Chiuffa.
Fine goalkeeping by Maik dos Santos kept Brazil within fighting distance, coming up with clutch saves while Germany were in transition and giving Brazil the chance to score off the break and in the empty net. A goal from the right wing by Oswaldo dos Santos Guimares brought Brazil back on level terms and got the crowd in Future Arena standing on its feet. And, yet again, just a couple minutes later it was Chiuffa who gave Brazil the lead back during a double power play with only 11 minutes remaining.
Another goal by Chiuffa from the right wing sealed the win for Brazil, as they now find themselves in excellent position to advance out of the group stage.
Croatia (2-1) fight off Denmark (2-1) 27-24
Croatia and Denmark kicked off an action-packed afternoon session, with Croatia giving Denmark their first loss of the competition.
It was Martin Strlek who gave Croatia the early 9-5 lead in the first half. Mikkel Hansen wasn't to be outdone, though, scoring four of his own from the middle and setting up plays on the wings.
Denmark entered the second half needing to stop Domagoj Duvnjak and Manuel Strlek, and tight defense on the wings provided Denmark the chance to do just that.
Lasse Svan was magnficient up front for Denmark early, generating the momentum that Denmark needed to draw the game level early in the half. Svan finished the game with nine goals.
Having to rearrange their strategy, Croatia strengthened their handiwork in the middle of the court on both offense and defense, soon opening up the three goal advantage again. It was Duvnjak, again, who orchestrated the gameplay for the Croations.
Group B: Poland (1-2) get back on track, def. Egypt (1-2) 33-25
Egypt couldn't overcome a slow start in their loss to Poland, whose Olympic campaign is officially back on track.
Poland stumped Egypt early, holding Egypt to just 43% efficiency on shooting in the first half. Poland also dominated on the fast break, converting on all five chances in the opening 30 minutes of play.
Egypt held their own in the second half. Eslam Eissa scored five of his six goals in the second half to keep Egypt in it, but it wasn't enough to accommodate the Poland's strong core of playmakers. Karol Bielecki, Michal Daszek, Mateusz Jachlewski and Przemyslaw Krajewski all scored more than four goals.
Group A: Qatar (1-1-1) rescue late 25-25 draw vs. Tunisia (0-1-2)
Qatar avoided the upset against Tunisia today, rescuing a late draw in the final moments of play on Thursday morning.
Issam Tej, who was red carded early in Tunisia's second round match, bounced back this time around, scoring four goals.
Qatar had an opportunity to fight back in the game with a power play in the 17th minute of the second half, but poor defense gave an undermanned Tunisia team space to work the ball into the net. Another opportunity came in the 23rd minute to level it at 22 all, but a costly turnover gave Tunisia the fast break to open the lead to two instead.
Tunisia's chances of an upset seemed to fade away in the final moments of play, as they missed chances to put away the match.
Two goals in the final minute were enough for Qatar, with Kamal Aldin Mallash leveling the game in the final 12 seconds of play from a shot in the bottom right. Rafael Capote scored 12 goals for the Qatari side.