Next stop qualification tournament for Tokyo 2020 – but for who?

12 Dec. 2019

Next stop qualification tournament for Tokyo 2020 – but for who?

Serbia vs Montenegro
11:30 (local time), Park Dome Kumamoto

Just the second morning match in all 96 being played at Japan 2019, sees neighbours Serbia and Montenegro take on each other for fifth place (11:30) at the Park Dome Kumamoto.

The near-annual competitive match between the two teams at an international competition over the past five years has seen Montenegro win three and draw one, with victories at the 2018 Women's European Championship in the main round (28:27), 2017 IHF Women’s World Championship eighth-final (31:29) and 2014 Women’s European Championship preliminary group (22:19). The 2015 IHF Women’s World Championship preliminary group game saw a 28:28 deadlock.

Montenegro have been the more impressive of the two teams at Japan 2019 so far with wins over Senegal, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Romania, Japan and Sweden, but they have suffered two losses, against Spain and against Russia, which put them out of contention for the semi-finals.

Serbia have beaten Angola, Cuba, Slovenia, Republic of Korea and, impressively, Germany. Losses to Norway and Netherlands were clear, but a draw against Denmark in their last main round match, saw them confirm their Olympic Qualification Tournaments (OQT) place and end Denmark’s Tokyo 2020 dreams.

After eight games each, both teams have a shooting efficiency of around 50% with Jelena Lavko top scorer for Serbia with 34 strikes and Jovanka Radicevic being top scorer for her country with 55 strikes, putting her fourth in the tournament top-scoring list overall.

Germany vs Sweden
14:30 (local time), Park Dome Kumamoto

Germany take on Sweden for seventh spot (14:30), with the ranking meaning more than just a top seven spot at Japan 2019. The magic seven also means the final qualification spot through to the Olympic Qualification Tournaments.

For Sweden, they can lose or win, as, either way, they are through to the OQT as, if they win, as the seventh best team at Japan 2019, or, if they lose, the third best-ranked European team, having finished sixth at the European Championship.

But Germany will be desperate for a win, which would confirm their spot in the OQT. A loss would ensure that Hungary, as the seventh best-placed team at the European Championship last year, would go through as the third best-ranked European team.

The top seven at the European Championship in order were France, Russia, Netherlands, Romania, Norway, Sweden and Hungary. With France already qualified as continental champions and Russia, Netherlands and Norway guaranteed a spot in the Olympic Qualification Tournaments at least, then the next best continental qualifier from Europe goes through – Romania. 

Germany will be thinking of Japan 2019 as a missed opportunity having beaten Brazil, Australia, Denmark and Netherlands. But losses against France, Serbia and Norway, and a draw against Korea highlight a mixture of results in a tournament where Emily Bolk and Julia Behnke have shared top-scoring duties with 35 goals each.

Sweden have beaten DR Congo, PR of China, Japan, Argentina and Romania, drawn against Spain and lost to Montenegro and Russia so far at Japan 2019 and Linn Blohm is their top scorer with 36 strikes.

The two teams met at the 2016 Women’s European Championship, with Germany easily winning 28:22 in the main round in front of the Swedish fans at home in Gothenburg. According to the Swedish Handball Federation, the two teams have met 42 times with Sweden winning just nine times, drawing three and losing 30, but in recent years, Sweden have become stronger on the international stage.

Key German player Alicia Stolle injured her ankle after landing awkwardly in their defeat against Norway which put them out of contention for a semi-final spot – if they had drawn, they would have qualified through.

Germany coach Henk Groener was still unsure at the team media day on Thursday (12 December) if they would be able to call on her for the Sweden clash, but his line player Julia Behnke knows with or without Stolle, there is a big prize to go for.

“The Olympic Games are our dream and goal; and we can still achieve something big,” said Behnke to “Against Sweden we have to show 60 minutes of fighting spirit again, a good cover and our speed game. We've played a great tournament so far, so I'm optimistic that we'll be able to burn off fireworks against Sweden.”