Examining Women’s Tokyo 2020 Group A: Reigning world champions and three continental champions clash

20 Jul. 2021

Examining Women’s Tokyo 2020 Group A: Reigning world champions and three continental champions clash

Three continents are represented in Group A of the women’s Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 handball tournament, with the Netherlands, Norway and Montenegro facing an Asian double-pronged challenge from Japan and the Republic of Korea, while African champions Angola complete the group.

The reigning world champions, the Netherlands, who won the title in Kumamoto, Japan, in December 2019 will face reigning European champions Norway, reigning Asian champions Korea and African champions Angola. 

With an experienced side looking to build on their success from December at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, when they won the trophy after going undefeated, Norway still look like the challengers to winning the group, at least from a statistical point of view.

The Scandinavian side hold the head-to-head record against every opponent in the group, never dropping a game against Japan – six wins in six games – and Angola – eight wins in eight games –, including three at the Olympic Games.

Norway have only dropped three games in 14 tries against the Netherlands, but they won their only meeting at the Olympic Games (36:26), the bronze-medal game at Rio 2016, five years ago. However, the Norwegian record against Korea is mixed, with the rivalry between the two sides being a highlight of past Olympics

Norway and Korea are the most decorated teams in the history of women’s handball at the Olympic Games, each country winning six medals, two of which were gold medals. No countries have faced off more often in the history of the Olympic Games in the women’s tournament, with Norway and Korea having crossed paths eight times.

The Korean side has taken four wins, including one in the final at Barcelona 1992 (28:21), but Norway have bounced back and are undefeated against Korea in the past four games, including a 31:25 win in the semi-finals at London 2012, when they ultimately won the title.

Reigning world champions the Netherlands are surely eyeing a superb comeback in Japan, after their successful campaign in December 2019, when they won their first major title in Kumamoto. 

Yet, injuries to key players like the MVP of the 2019 IHF Women’s World Championship, Estavana Polman, could mean trouble for the European powerhouse, after a disappointing Women’s EHF EURO 2020, when they finished sixth.

Influential centre back Nycke Groot’s comeback to international handball could boost their chances, but the head-to-head record from the Dutch side against their opponents in Group A is far from stellar.

The Netherlands have never won against Montenegro in official games, conceding two losses, 25:27 at the IHF Women’s World Championship in 2013 and 27:31 at the EHF EURO 2014, while Korea also hold the head-to-head record against the Dutch team, with three wins in six games. The only match at the Olympic Games between the two sides ended in a 32:32 draw, five years ago at Rio 2016.

However, the Netherlands have never dropped a game against Japan in five matches and have won both games against Angola at the IHF Women’s World Championship, 37:24 at Denmark 2015 and 35:28 at Japan 2019.

The other European side in Group A, Montenegro, are in the middle of a change of guard, as former Olympic silver medallist Bojana Popovic has taken over in February 2021 as the head coach of the team.

Popovic was influential both in the Olympic Games final at London 2012, where Montenegro lost against Norway 23:26, but also several months later, as Montenegro lifted their first-ever piece of silverware at a major tournament, winning the Women’s EHF EURO 2012 final against the Scandinavian side.

Montenegro have only won twice in seven games against the reigning European champions, also conceding a 23:28 loss in the Olympic qualification tournament they hosted in Podogorica in March 2021.

Records against Japan – three wins and one loss –, Korea – one win – and Angola – three wins and one loss – are also positive, fortifying Montenegro’s challenge for a quarter-final berth.

Five years ago, Angola progressed to the quarter-finals of the Olympic Games for the first time, winning two games in the group phase, one less as they did in the previous five editions combined.

However, the African side do have a hefty challenge on their hands at Tokyo 2020, having won only two times against their five opponents – once against Montenegro, 27:25 at Rio 2016, and once against Korea, 30:29 in the Round of 16 at the IHF Women’s World Championship in Brazil 2011.

However, Montenegro have won three times against Angola in official games, Korea have secured eight wins against the African champions, while both games between Angola and Japan ended in stalemates, at the IHF Women’s World Championships in 1997 and 1999.

One of the most exciting games in the group will pit together hosts Japan and Asian rivals the Korea. The Korean side holds an enormous advantage, having won 24 of the last 27 games played between the two sides, including eight wins in a row. However, hosts Japan will be buoyed by taking the home court advantage, and will likely try to secure a win on the biggest of stages against their biggest rivals in Asia. 

Group A throws off on Sunday 25 July with the Netherlands versus Japan, Montenegro against Angola and Norway against Korea.

Visit the competition mini-site for more information. You can read about Group A of the men’s Olympic tournament here.