"Always difficult at the Olympic Games". Coaches and players react after Paris 2024 draw

17 Apr. 2024

"Always difficult at the Olympic Games". Coaches and players react after Paris 2024 draw

The 24 teams taking part at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games have learnt their fate on Tuesday, 16 April, when the draw for the preliminary rounds of both the men’s and the women’s competitions took place in Creteil, after the meeting of the IHF Council.

With the 12 teams in each competition divided into six pots, there was always going to be an interesting split, with well-balanced groups in each the men’s and the women’s competition, as the top sides in the world are always due to face tough opponents at the Olympic Games.

The reigning champions, France, had the right to choose their group in both draws and in the women’s competition, coach Olivier Krumbholz got on the stage after a five-minute reflection and chose Group B, where the hosts are due to play against Hungary, the Netherlands, Spain, Brazil and Angola.

“You have Norway and Denmark in Group A, and we hope to win Group B and I think if France were in Group A, it would have been a very unbalanced preliminary round. Therefore, we chose Group B. It is quite obvious that we aim to finish first, because I think the most important match in this competition is the quarter-finals one” said Krumbholz, France women’s national team coach.

One of the opponents which France are due to face is Brazil, which qualified for the seventh time in a row for the Olympic Games, with their best result coming at Rio 2016, when they finished on the fifth place.

In the last edition, Brazil ended up on the 11th place, with a single win in five matches, failing to make the quarter-finals. Nevertheless, Brazil are still one of the powerhouses in women’s handball and they aim for a good outing at Paris 2024.

“When it comes to the Olympics, there is no easy group. As you could see, both groups are very tough and this is the beauty of the Olympic Games. But in our group especially I think the biggest challenge is adapting to the different kinds and styles of handball we will face from game to the game. For example, Angola is playing a much different game than Spain and then Holland and France and so on,” says Brazil’s goalkeeper, Barbara Arenhart, for ihf.info.

One of the challenges Brazil will face to qualify, needing at least one win against an European side, is to deliver a good match against hosts France, which are also the reigning Olympic champions.

“I think this would be one of the most amazing experiences during the Games. To play against them on their home court in front of their fans couldn’t be more exciting. It’s somehow an honour to play against the host team. It’s also a beautiful handball. We have great experiences against France in the past tournaments. As I said, there is no easy opponent. Of course, facing France, the current champions, it’s probably the biggest one in the group, but I’m very excited,” says Arenhart.

On the other hand, three Scandinavian teams – Norway, Denmark and Sweden – have been drawn into Group A, which now consists of three of the four sides which played for the medals at the 2023 IHF Women’s World Championship in December 2023.

Alongside them will be Germany, Slovenia and the Republic of Korea, with Slovenia being the only side which makes their debut at the Olympic Games, here, at Paris 2024.

“We know it is very hard to qualify for the Olympics, there are the best teams in the world here. The group is very tough, we are happy to play at Paris 2024, it does not matter who is the opponent. The European opponents are difficult, we have to play against three out of the best four teams according to the last World Championship in our group. Denmark, Norway and Sweden finished in the top four teams at the last World Championship,” says Emily Bolk, Germany women's national team captain, for ihf.info.

“We also met Slovenia at the last Olympic Qualification Tournament, so we have a good idea about them, a good feeling after winning against them. The Republic of Korea, they also play a different brand of handball, this Asian style and if I remember correctly we met them at Japan 2019 and it was a draw. Pretty tight group, we are looking forward to these matches and go to Paris”

"It was a coin toss"

The men’s competition will also provide fantastic matches, with the battle between France and Denmark, the teams which played the final in the previous two editions, now scheduled for the preliminary round, after hosts France chose Group B, alongside the reigning world champions, Norway, Hungary, Egypt and Argentina.

“"It is always very difficult to choose, because these are the toughest matches and the best teams in the world. Joking, it was a coin toss. We are expecting an amazing competition and when you see the overall quality, it will be an incredible fight. With our ambition for this tournament, we are not afraid to face anyone and, at the same time, we fear each team. This competition certainly gives us the toughest field of all previous Olympic campaigns. But whatever the composition of the groups, we will aim to win the matches to find the best possible position,” said France’s coach, Guillaume Gille.

Denmark’s coach, Nikolaj Jacobsen, who faced France in the last Olympic final, losing the gold medal, but avenging that loss in the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship final, echoes Gille praising the quality of the competition.

"Usually, in these competitions, the draw does not matter so much, because the group would always be difficult. With such a strong host like France, there are no easy matches. There needs to be a very good start and there is no room for mistake, because the start is crucial and can set the tone for the future in the competition. I do not know if playing against France in the group is the best thing for us, but it is about getting the best position and improve our chances for a medal," says Jacobsen.

Another team drawn in Group B was Egypt, which finished fourth at Tokyo 2020, their best-ever result in the competition, and will be aiming to cement that position with another excellent outing, being definitely the most consistent non-European team in men’s handball right now.

“We were watching all together now, all the guys from national team, on the phone. It was really interesting. We have a lot of thoughts. It’s hard to say anything. I think the group is very hard, of course. It’s really hard. We expect for sure, France and Denmark are I think the best two or two teams in the world in my opinion, so to be with them in the group is already tough from the beginning. Then Norway and Hungary, I think, are in the second level. After them also really hard games. It’s almost like playing in the EURO. Argentina is relatively the easiest game of the group,” said Egypt’s right back, Yahia Omar, for ihf.info.

“We hope to do the maximum, to win as much as many matches as possible, to have the best way to the semi-final because of course, the other side is still good. There’s Spain and Germany and Sweden, which are really top teams. You have after them Croatia and Slovenia, who are also still good teams. It’s the Olympics. There’s nothing easy. I think we have the harder group, but I think it gives us a better possibility to be in the semi-finals.”

In Group A, Spain, Croatia, Germany, Slovenia, Sweden and Japan will face off, with five European teams vying for four quarter-finals berths, while Japan are always a dark horse, but must be the underdog in this group.

“Regardless of which group we had ended up in, it would have been tough. In the Olympics, a lot is about advancing from the group and performing in a quarter-final and here, if we do that, we will face tough opposition there. But I believe and hope that we will both make it to the quarter-finals and then play for the medals,” said Sweden’s coach, Glenn Solberg.