Crunch time in continental derbies
29 Jul. 2021
The penultimate round of matches in the men’s handball competition preliminary round at Tokyo 2020 arrives with four quarter-final places already booked. Thanks to their perfect winning records, the four semi-finalists from the 27th IHF Men’s World Championship in January – winners Denmark, runners-up Sweden, bronze medallists Spain and France – are already assured of safe passage to the next stage.
That leaves just four places remaining in the quarter-finals, and the pressure is on in this round, particularly for the teams yet to collect any points. All four of those sides are set to fight for their first wins against familiar rivals.
In Group A, Argentina and Brazil will meet in what will be the first Olympic match in the history of the handball competition between two South American sides. Both have given their opponents so far at Tokyo 2020 a challenge in every round and often been close until the final minutes, but never been able to finish the job yet.
It will be the 70th match in history, across all competitions, between Argentina and Brazil. The two have been the dominant forces in South America and, prior to the splitting of the Pan American Team Handball Federation, the Americas as a whole for the last two decades, with no other team winning the Pan American Championship since Argentina first claimed it in 2000. Argentina clinched that title seven times and Brazil raised the trophy three times, and they almost always met in the final. Only Cuba and Chile managed to disrupt the steady stream of Argentina versus Brazil finals once each.
The two South American powerhouses won clearly the highest number of medals in the competition up until the last edition in 2018, with 12 medals for Argentina and 15 for Brazil. Then the continental confederation reformed into two regions: North America and the Caribbean, and South and Central America. At the first edition of that championship, in 2020, Argentina were the champions and Brazil the silver medallists.
Both enter the match with only losses behind them and very similar goal differences – Brazil are fifth on the Group A table with 78 goals scored and Argentina count 75 goals, while both have 93 goals against. Those figures are not relevant to their potential quarter-final qualification but show the similar level of performance against their opponents at Tokyo 2020.
What is relevant to this to the quarter-final race are the points up for grabs in this classic continental derby. Depending on Germany’s result in the final round 4 game of the group against Norway, the losing side in this encounter could see their Tokyo 2020 campaign come to an end, so it is undoubtedly one of the most critical battles in the long history between the teams.
That history has seen 69 previous encounters starting from 1971, with 37 wins for Brazil, 28 for Argentina and four draws. Their duels have typically been low-scoring encounters, with average scores of just under 22 goals per team per game.
Brazil enter the game after a defeat to European champions Spain in the last round, which ended 25:32 – an unexpectedly decisive score line considering the teams had drawn in their last clash in January.
“We did a great job against them in the World Championship in Egypt. We drew. We expected a hard game but not like that,” said disappointed Brazil line player Rogerio Moraes after the game.
“It's hard. It’s hard now, but we still have two games to play and we will try to be better.”
Bahrain and Japan battle for first win
In Group B, it will be Bahrain and Japan fighting for their first points in a mutual match. The two Asian teams have come even closer to wins than Brazil and Argentina, yet left the court empty handed in all three previous rounds. The two will open the day for the group before Sweden meet Egypt, with the African champions eyeing their first Olympic quarter-final qualification since Sydney 2000. A win versus the World Championship runners-up will book their place in the next stage, but Egypt will still be in a decent position to reach the next round with a defeat.
The last game for Group B will see Portugal on the hunt for their second win as they meet unbeaten defending Olympic champions Denmark.
The other Group A games will feature two big European battles. First up, France and Spain face off with one of their perfect winning records to end – or both in case of a draw. The two last met in the World Championship bronze-medal match in January, won by European champions Spain.
Wrapping up the day will be Germany versus Norway, with the Scandinavian side looking to earn their quarter-final spot with a victory.
Full schedule Friday 30 July
All times local
09:00 Argentina vs Brazil – Group A
11:00 Bahrain vs Japan – Group B
14:15 France vs Spain – Group A
16:15 Sweden vs Egypt – Group B
19:30 Portugal vs Denmark – Group B
21:30 Germany vs Norway – Group A