31 Jul. 2021
On the final day of the preliminary round in the men’s handball competition at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020, three quarter-final tickets remain to be decided – and six teams are in the running for them, including Olympic debutants Bahrain.
After securing their first victory in Olympic history in a continental derby against Japan in the previous round, Bahrain kept a chance to progress. They do not depend solely on their own result and the pressure is high for the Asian team, but their level of performance at Tokyo 2020 has been strong and they have come very close to causing some big upsets, so the dream is not yet over.
Bahrain grabbed attention at Tokyo 2020 immediately, as they lost to 2021 World Championship silver medallists Sweden by just one goal with a last-minute decision after leading at half-time.
“We are disappointed about the result after a good performance and a big fight. We could have got at least one point, if not two,” said Bahrain’s Icelandic coach Aron Kristjansson following the match.
“Our goal was to be in the game after 50 minutes and take it step by step. The plan was working well until the penalty at the end. The players now have that bad feeling inside them, but we have to recover quickly.”
Almost the same situation repeated against Portugal in round 2, with Bahrain again succumbing to a one-goal defeat late in the game. In round 3, the loss was more decisive – 21:31 against the defending Olympic champions Denmark.
On Friday in their fourth Olympic game, Bahrain made history as they took their first win – and not only for the handball competition, as the squad are the first from their country in any team sport at the Games.
While Bahrain have a long history in Asia, having participated in the first edition of the continental championship in 1977, their global record began much more recently. Aside from a bronze medal at the Asian Championship in 1995, the team did not rank among the top until 2010, when they reached the final for the first time. Soon after came their first World Championship berth, in 2011.
Since 2010, Bahrain have clinched four silver medals at the continental championship and played the final three straight times from 2014 to 2018. In 2020, they placed fourth. The team qualified for Tokyo 2020 as the winners of the Asian qualification event held in October 2019.
At World Championships, Bahrain have yet to break into the top 20. Their best result so far is 20th in 2019. In January 2021 in Egypt, they placed 21st. For that reason the team were not expected to challenge the likes of Sweden and Portugal, but they have shown a sharp rise in performance and have garnered considerable attention.
Bahrain will now play Egypt in their final preliminary round game at Tokyo 2020. The African champions enter the game following a strong win over Sweden in round 4, which took them to the Olympic quarter-finals for the first time since Sydney 2000. Overall, Egypt have taken three victories and they are the favourites to win the clash, but there can be no underestimating Bahrain considering their performances so far.
Bahrain’s fate is not entirely their own however. They take the court placed fifth in Group B, with Portugal ahead based on their win against Bahrain. If Portugal win against Japan in the opening match of the day, Bahrain will not be able to pass them on the table and their quarter-final chance will be gone. If Portugal lose, Bahrain’s opportunity to reach the quarter-finals is there and a win against Egypt would be the best scenario in which to do it.
No matter how the final day of preliminary games unfolds, Bahrain have made history for their nation and shown a new face to the handball world – one that will not soon be forgotten.
Last three quarter-final places to be decided
Portugal and Japan will open the day of matches on Sunday, with everything on the line for both. If Portugal win, they will secure Group B’s last quarter-final berth. If Japan take the victory, Portugal will be knocked out and Japan will wait for the result of Bahrain’s clash against Egypt to find out which of the Asian teams progresses. A win alone will not be enough for the Olympic hosts – Japan would need to win by at least four goals and rely on Bahrain to lose or win by three and score at least 28 goals, still with Bahrain losing.
Bahrain will take on Egypt in the second Group B match of the day and 2021 World Championship finalists Denmark and Sweden will meet for the last preliminary round game to wrap up the day. Egypt, Denmark and Sweden are all qualified for the quarter-finals ahead of this round but are playing for the best possible placement on the table.
In Group A, Spain and France are both sure to progress. Spain will play Argentina, who are out of the running for the quarter-finals, before France face Norway. Germany will meet Brazil in the final game of the group. Norway and Germany can both decide their own fates with wins, which would mean they qualify for the next stage.
For Brazil, Norway’s result is relevant. If Norway lose, Brazil would not only need to win but it would also depend on the final score against Germany whether or not the South American side will go through, alongside either Germany or Norway. If Norway win, a victory against Germany would qualify Brazil for the next stage.
Full schedule Sunday 1 August
All times local
09:00 Portugal vs Japan – Group B
11:00 Egypt vs Bahrain – Group B
14:15 Spain vs Argentina – Group A
16:15 Norway vs France – Group A
19:30 Germany vs Brazil – Group A
21:30 Denmark vs Sweden – Group B