Never too soon, right?
Spain was the runaway winner in the just-concluded World Championship, beating Denmark 35-19 in the final. They lost a group-stage game to eventual third-place finisher Croatia but otherwise won with ease.
Two reasons not to anoint Spain as the 2016 favorites just yet:
1. Spain hosted the tournament, a big advantage.
2. The tournament, Team Handball News reports, didn’t find teams at their sharpest. Some are rebuilding, some may have tournament fatigue.
That said, Spain is no stranger to the podium and usually makes the knockout rounds at least.
Our likely contenders are:
– Spain: World champion, 2012 Olympic quarterfinalist (lost 23-22 to eventual champion France).
– France: Won nearly everything from 2008-2012 (2 Olympics, 2 Worlds, 1 European), then fell flat in Spain.
– Denmark: 2012 European champions, runners-up in 2011 and 2013 Worlds. Lost to Sweden in 2012 quarterfinals.
– Croatia: 1996 and 2004 Olympic champions. Third place in 2012 Oly and 2013 Worlds.
– Germany: Young team won 2013 group, ran into Spain in quarterfinals. Has the top-ranked domestic league (No. 2 is Spain.)
– Hungary: Ouch. Fourth place in the Olympics five times, with no medal. That includes 2012. Quarterfinalist in 2013.
– Slovenia: 2013 surprise — group winner and semifinalist.
– Russia: The Soviet Union was a handball power, and Russia has had some moments since the split. Not recently.
– Iceland: 2008 silver medalists won 2012 Oly group but fell in overtime to Hungary in quarterfinals. Not a factor in 2013, losing in round of 16.
– Sweden: Semifinalists at home in 2011. Runner-up in 2012 Oly. Failed to qualify for 2013 Worlds.
– Tunisia: Well, not really a contender, but if you want a non-European team, this might be your only choice. European teams tend not to lose to non-Europeans. Great Britain, which doesn’t do much in handball but got in as host in 2012, was one exception. Another was Montenegro, which upset Sweden to reach the 2013 Worlds but then lost all five games, including matchups with Brazil and Argentina. Tunisia won three games in 2013, including one over Germany, but also lost to Brazil.
The IHF theoretically has rankings, but they don’t seem to have been updated in a couple of years.
2012 projection: Denmark, France, Spain
2012 actual: France, Sweden, Croatia
2013 Worlds: Spain, Denmark, Croatia
2016 projection: Denmark, Germany, Spain