Handball is the most exciting sport you probably haven’t been watching at the 2021 Olympics. Here’s what you need to know as the knockout rounds begin.
The group stage of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics handball tournament is officially in the rearview mirror as of Monday morning in the United States. With 60 games of Olympic handball in the books, the knockout rounds are set to begin on Monday night for the men and Tuesday night for the women. Let’s take a look at which players and teams to watch for, as well as recap some of the biggest moments from the last week of action.
2021 Olympics: Handball Favorites
The Denmark men’s handball squad entered Tokyo fresh off taking home the 2021 World Championship trophy in January, where they dispatched of Egypt (the host country), Spain, and Sweden in a series of thrilling knockout round matches. Mikkel Hansen, long considered one of the best players in the world, took home tournament MVP.
Hansen and Denmark picked up right where they left off in the Olympic group stage. The Danes won their first three group stage matches over host Japan, Egypt, and Bahrain by a combined 22 points before dropping their final outing to Sweden when their position in the knockout round was already clinched. Hansen has the second-most goals in the tournament so far with 32 on 56 shots to become the most prolific scorer in men’s Olympic handball history.
Denmark and Norway will face off in an all-Scandanavian quarterfinal as the Danes look to continue their reign over international handball. They won gold in Rio at the 2016 Games and won the 2019 world championship. They haven’t lost a major international tournament since 2017.
In the women’s competition, Norway seems to be on a quest to regain their title as Olympic champions. Norway, the 2021 European champions, won the gold medal at both Beijing 2008 and London 2012 before bowing out to evential gold medalists Russia in overtime in the semifinals at Rio 2016.
That heartbreak has seemed to fuel Norway. They are the only team that finished unblemished in group play, winning all five of their games with a plus-47 goal differential, which is more than 20 goals better than the next best squad.
Nora Mørk has paced Norway with 31 goals, second-highest count so far in the tournament, on 44 shots. Meanwhile, in goal, Katrine Lunde and Silje Solberg have split time to great results. They should easily dispatch Hungary in the quarterfinals.
2021 Olympics: Handball dark horses
Netherlands played Norway tight in the group stage of the women’s tournament, losing just 29-27, and came away unbeaten in their other four matches with a plus-26 goal differential overall. They’re set to face France, who has been better than their 2-1-2 record shows, in the quarterfinals.
Sweden, the winner of group B, could also be a threat after going 3-1-1 with a plus-19 goal differential and the tournament’s best goalkeeper thus far, Jessica Ryde, between the pipes.
On the men’s side, it feels destined that Denmark and Egypt will meet for a third time in 2021 in the gold medal game. Egypt finished the group stage 4-0-1, with the lone loss coming to Denmark, and a hearty plus-20 goal differential. Standout goalkeeper Mohamed El-Tayar will need to try and limit Hansen’s scores for the Egyptians to pull an upset.
From group A, France and Spain were pretty even. Both finished 4-0-1 (France lost to Norway on the final day, Spain lost to France 36-31) with goal differentials of plus-14 and plus-13, respectively. For either to be able to keep pace with Denmark, they’ll have to up the offensive output.