Sweden secured their place at the 2016 Olympic Games despite finishing their qualification campaign with a two-goal loss against Spain. The final deficit of two put the hosts of the Malmö tournament through based on their greater number of For goals in comparison with Spain, who finished on four points from two wins alongside Sweden and Slovenia.
Slovenia enjoyed a more relaxed final match, defeating Iran by 16 goals to finish on top of the group table.
Malmö Arena, Malmö
Sweden vs Spain 23:25 (11:12)
The fact that Spain had to win by three goals or more in order to qualify for Rio was evident from the beginning of the match, as the 2013 world champions wasted no time racing ahead to a 5:2 advantage after seven minutes. At that point Mattias Andersson seemed to adjust to Spain’s rhythm and began to stop the visiting team’s shots, allowing Sweden to slowly close the gap.
Spain temporarily opened up another two-goal advantage with a fast-break goal from left wing Cristian Ugalde in the 13th (5:7), but Sweden had the momentum. The Scandinavian team equalised for the first time at 7:7 midway through the half with their own counter attack courtesy of Jonas Kallman off a Mattias Andersson save, at which point the match increased in intensity with the level score line persisting as Andersson caused a great deal of trouble for Spain.
Gonzalo Perez de Vargas was having his own impressive game at the other end of the court, and as a result neither team were able to score for several minutes. Though the scoring drought was soon broken neither side were able to create a decisive advantage as the clock ticked on. A series of goals from Spain late in the half turned a 9:10 deficit into a 12:10 advantage with less than a minute remaining, but Sweden’s Mattias Zachrisson scored in the final seconds to keep a one-goal gap at the break.
As the game entered the crucial second half tension in Malmo Arena ran high and the level score line remained. Kallman was hit in the face on a ground shot when the score was equal at 17:17 in the 40th, and his injury was severe enough that he had to return to the bench for treatment while the score remained locked until the clock moved into the final 15 minutes.
Both teams hit the net to put the score at 18:18 before Kim Andersson and Julen Aguinagalde received simultaneous two-minute suspensions. Spain were the first to capitalise with a goal from Jorge Maqueda (18:19, 48th), and the visitors maintained that same lead until the 52nd minute when Mattias Andersson made a crucial save. But it was Valero Rivera who scored next on a fast break that put Spain in front 21:19 in the 52nd.
Spain hit the three-goal advantage they needed with a Raul Entrerrios goal in the 55th (23:20), immediately followed by a superb wing save from Perez de Vargas after Sweden pushed a fast restart. Spain continued their run with an outside goal from Maqueda taking the score to 24:20 with just over three minutes remaining, and the team knew they were close to exactly the victory they needed.
But Sweden decreased the difference to a dangerous three goals before receiving a two-minute suspension. Despite the numerical deficit Kim Andersson scored a ground shot that closed the gap to 22:24, and when Spain lost the ball in their next attack with only 70 seconds left the situation looked perilous.
Spain found the goal again to create the three-goal advantage they needed at 25:22, and with 15 seconds left on the clock only had to keep Sweden from scoring until the buzzer. Perez de Vargas rose to the occasion with an outstanding save off a breakthrough shot but Sweden were awarded a penalty, which Ekberg converted resulting in thunderous applause throughout the arena as the home team’s place at Rio 2016 was confirmed.
Slovenia vs Iran 33:17 (17:8)
Slovenia were the strong favourites ahead of this match and wasted no time showing they were ready to fulfil that role, as they quickly took control to create a 3:1 advantage after five minutes of play.
Though Slovenia maintained an edge Iran’s offensive defence made their job difficult, and the Asian team were able to slowly close the gap to 6:6 by the 14th minute. Midway through the half Slovenia held a narrow advantage at 7:6 when goalkeeper Matevz Skok made a penalty save and his team converted to pull in front to 8:6, signalling the beginning of the end for Iran.
Once Slovenia created the two-goal advantage they did not look back, streaking ahead to a 10-goal difference at 17:7 just before the end of the period courtesy of Gasper Marguc’s sixth goal. Though Iran closed the gap slightly before the buzzer it was not enough to give them a proper chance to come back into the game in the second half.
Despite some strong moments from Iran, who kept fighting through to the final whistle, Slovenia were firmly in charge and continued to increase their lead when the match resumed. Within a few minutes of the second period beginning it was clear Slovenia had no intention of slowing down, and the match was long decided before the final buzzer sounded to show a decisive 16-goal win for the European team.