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News Details

Date: 3/17/2016

The Women’s Olympic Qualification Tournaments begin on Friday in Metz, Astrakhan and Aarhus, at the end of which all 12 teams to compete for Olympic glory in Rio de Janeiro in August will be confirmed. 

The three-day tournament in Metz will see Japan, Tunisia, the Netherlands and France taking to the court with the top two teams earning the right to travel to Brazil later in the year. 

Friday March 18 in Les Arenes, Metz
Japan vs Tunisia 16:45 local time 

Japan and Tunisia throw off the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Metz with a match that both sides will likely view as their best chance for a win. 

The teams have a recent history against each other, having met in the group phase of the 22nd IHF Women’s Handball World Championship in December. That game ended with a decisive victory for Japan, who won 31:21. 

Japan also finished ahead of the African team on the final Denmark 2015 ranking, coming in 19th while Tunisia finished 21st.

A final place of 19th may have been below Japan’s expectations at the World Championship, but December’s results were perhaps more disappointing for Tunisia, for whom it was the lowest ever rank.

The 2014 African champions are on the cusp of a development period and their World Championship squad reflected that, mixing a young team with experienced players such as star Mouna Chebbah.

Chebbah, who ranked as the 10th top scorer at Denmark 2015 with 43 goals, is far and away the most experienced international player on either teams’ roster, and as such will play a key role for Tunisia. 

Japan will rely on the fast game they have become known for, along with their unusual defensive tactics, when they take to the court on Friday. 

Netherlands vs France 19:00 local time

Two of Europe’s powerhouse teams meet for the second match of the evening in Metz, and France in particular have something to prove against the team who eliminated them from the 22nd IHF Women’s Handball World Championship. 

Their early exit following the 25:28 loss to the Netherlands was disappointing, but France have since earned a reason to celebrate. Just last week they defeated Germany in a double header as part of the EHF EURO 2016 Qualification Phase, securing their place at the final tournament to be held in Sweden in December with the victories. 

The Netherlands were not as successful in their two matches against Spain, winning the home leg and losing away in what could be an ominous prediction of how Friday’s meeting with tournament hosts France will end. 

No one can deny that the Denmark 2015 silver medallists are in exceptional form after they stunned the handball world by qualifying for their first ever semi-final then final at the World Championship. But France have an intimidating record playing at home, where they are undefeated in EHF EURO qualification matches since 1998, indicating just how successfully they are able to capitalise on the ‘eighth player’. 

Looking at players individually it is difficult to point to a clear favourite between these teams, as both count on stars playing at the top of their game. France’s Allison Pineau and Gnonsiane Niombla are both having strong seasons with their clubs, currently sitting on second and eighth on the list of EHF Champions League top scorers, respectively. 

Though there are Champions League players that also wear the Netherlands jersey, some of their biggest stars at Denmark 2015, such as All-star goalkeeper Tess Wester, were relative unknowns prior to December. Their medal-winning squad list has changed very little since the end of last year, though there were concerns for Estavana Polman a few short weeks ago with regard to long-running heart problems. Polman was recovered and back on court for their EHF EURO Qualification matches against Spain, however. 

Netherlands coach Henk Groener has no doubts that his team will secure their place at Rio 2016 if they play at their usual level:

“The establishment, togetherness and team spirit has not changed. We were successful at the World Championship, but the girls have only become hungrier. It was fantastic that we were second but we did not finish first.”

No matter the outcome on Friday, fans can expect a thrilling 60 minutes between these world-class sides.