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Last call for Tokyo! Men's Olympic qualifiers preview and schedule

Who will qualify for the Tokyo Olympics? We're about to find out: Three mid-March play-offs will decide the last six of 12 teams at this summer's Games: Here's everything you need.
By Ken Browne

Who wants to play handball at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer 2021?

Six places are up for grabs at three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Montenegro, France and Germany from 12-14 March.

With six teams already qualified, we are about to find out who will be packing the Japanese phrasebook and attempting to take the Olympic crown from Mikkel Hansen's reigning two-time World and Olympic champions Denmark.

So when and where are the qualifying tournaments? Which teams have a chance to qualify? Which handball superstars are playing? All your questions are answered here:

When are the Olympic qualifying tournaments?

The three Men's Handball Qualification Tournaments for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games will happen simultaneously from 12 to 14 March 2021.

Originally scheduled to be held from 17 to 19 April 2020, they were they were moved to March 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where are the Olympic qualifiers being played?

Tournament 1: Podgorica, Montenegro (Moved from Trondheim, Norway due to Covid restrictions)

Tournament 2: Montpellier, France

Tournament 3: Berlin, Germany

Who will contest the Olympic handball tournaments?

A total of 12 teams will play for the six remaining places available in Japan this summer. They are:

Tournament 1: Norway (NOR), Brazil (BRA), Chile (CHI), Republic of Korea (KOR)

Tournament 2: France (FRA), Croatia (CRO), Tunisia (TUN), Portugal (POR)

Tournament 3: Germany (GER), Sweden (SWE), Slovenia (SLO), Algeria (ALG)

The teams will play each other once in a round-robin format and the two best-ranked teams in each qualifying group will punch those tickets to Tokyo 2020.

Handball Olympic qualifying tournaments SCHEDULE

(All times local to host country):

Tournament 1 - Podgorica

12 March

17:30 CHI vs KOR

20:00 NOR vs BRA

13 March

17:30 BRA vs KOR

20:00 NOR vs CHI

14 March

17:30 BRA vs CHI

20:00 KOR vs NOR

Tournament 2 - Montpellier

12 March

18:30 TUN vs POR

21:00 FRA vs CRO

13 March

18:30 CRO vs POR

21:00 FRA vs TUN

14 March

18:30 CRO vs TUN

21:00 POR vs FRA

Tournament 3 - Berlin

12 March

15:15 GER vs SWE

17:45 SLO vs ALG

13 March

15:35 GER vs SLO

18:00 SWE vs ALG

14 March

15:45 ALG vs GER

18:15 SWE vs SLO

Scroll down for previews of all three tournaments.

Tournament 1 - Norway aim at first Olympics in almost 50 years

Excited by the chance to see Sander Sagosen in a Norwegian jersey again?

Us too. Tipped by many to win the Egypt Worlds, the Norges Håndballforbund finished a disappointing sixth in Cairo and will be hoping for better at the Tokyo Games.

Norway may have joined handball's elite on world championship podiums of late with silver medals at the 2017 and 2019 tournaments, but haven't qualified for an Olympics since the indoor sport debuted at Munich 1972.

These qualifying tournaments are their best chance yet to get back on the Olympic stage and the good news for the team is that the three Magnuses - Fredriksen (centre back), Gullerud (line player) and Rod (right back) - who missed Egypt 2021 are all back.

Key to Norway's hopes are line player Bjarte Myrhol, goalie Torbjorn Bergerud, the essential Christian O’Sullivan at centre back who makes it all work, and Sagosen. Of course.

Brazil will fancy their chances of making a second straight appearance at the Games with the Rio hosts joined by Chile who they beat by 12 (32:20) at the Central America Handball Confederation (SCAHC) Championship last January.

Coach Marcus ‘Tata’ Oliveira said they want qualification "at all costs,” and with Barça duo Thiagus Petrus and Haniel Langaro back together they look like they mean business.

South Korea are the unknowns of this group having sent the U23 team to Egypt, but with the Olympics their main aim they shouldn't be counted out either.

Tournament 2 preview: Too close to call

Definitely the toughest group of the three but there will be some poignancy in Montpellier following the death of Portugal goalie Alfredo Quintana after he suffered a heart attack in training.

With that tragedy, it will be hard to predict whether the Portuguese will be able to produce the high-octane handball which saw them to an all-time best 10th at the recent World Championships.

France were fourth in Egypt with Croatia 15th and Tunisia 25th, but this event is a very different affair with three games in three days deciding who makes the trip to Tokyo.

France are still without the totemic Nikola Karabatic and, if he is to win a third gold medal in Tokyo, then the team need to get there without him.

The other Karabatic (Luka) will be in Montpelier alongside the considerable talents of Dika Mem, Hugo Descat and the irrepressible Ludovic Fabregas who made the Egypt Worlds All-Star team as pivot.

Croatia to make sixth straight Games?

Croatia are another team looking to reboot at this tournament after they drew with Japan and lost to Argentina in Cairo, failing to make the quarter-finals.

The fact that star man Domagoj Duvnjak wasn't fully recovered from Covid and Luka Cindric's back injury may explain much of what occurred in Egypt, but now they need to raise their level.

Two-time Olympic gold medallists Croatia are aiming for a sixth straight Games and while there's some bad news with Luka Stepancic out for two months, there's also some good news.

Duvnjak looks a lot better, centre back Luka Cindric is fit, and Ivan Cupic (right wing) and Igor Karacic (centre back) are showing fine club form.

Legendary coach Lino Cervar stepped down from the helm of the national side after the Egypt disappointment, and his successor Hrvoje Horvat is out to restore Croatia to their traditional role as a global handball powerhouse.

“I know the team very well, I have coached some of the players for a lot of time. I am convinced that the team will look different, very different than in Egypt.” - Croatia coach Hrvoje Horvat

Portugal have a tough task getting beyond France and Croatia in this pot, but they'll take confidence having finished five places above Croatia in Egypt.

Their talented young side features the likes of 22-year-old Andre Gomes who's a rising star of handball and his 23-year-old Porto teammate Miguel Soares who was outstanding in the Egyptian capital.

Portuguese hopes will also rest on 'keeper Humberto Gomes who had the best save percentage of Egypt 2021 - 43% - stopping 33 of the 76 shots he faced.

And while Tunisia failed to earn a single point in their group with Brazil, Spain and Poland in Egypt, they are a strong, committed, physical side and would love to upset one of the European teams in France.

Look out for Mohamed Darmoul who has a lot of weight on his shoulders now that the experienced Mosbah Sanai has retired.

Tournament 3 preview: Buoyant Sweden v Germany 2.0

Egypt 2021 surprise finalists Sweden will be aiming to qualify in first place from this group, but watch out for Germany.

After an underwhelming 12th place finish in Egypt, this will be a very different Germany outfit on home soil in Berlin.

A number of German stars did not travel to Cairo due to injuries and coronavirus concerns, but back into the squad come Final Four MVP Hendrik Pekeler, Patrick Wiencick, Fabian Wiede, Sebastian Heymann, and Steffen Weinhold.

Sweden, with their collars still up after winning silver in Cairo, will be counting on more heroics from Worlds All-Star goalie Andreas Palicka, tournament third top scorer Hampus Wanne who bagged 53 goals, 25-year-old rising star Lucas Pellas, and the soul of the team, Jim Gottfridsson.

While most experts say Germany and Sweden are the most likely two to emerge from this group, Slovenia are no slouches either.

Ninth in Egypt they boast calibre like Dragan Gajic who still knows where the net is at 36, and Barcelona's Blaz Janc who is already a star at 24 years of age.

Algeria won't roll over for anybody either with their leading lights Ayoub Abdi and Messaoud Berkous.

Who has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics?

These are the teams that have already qualified for Tokyo:

Hosts Japan, reigning Olympic champions Denmark, Pan-American Games champs Argentina, reigning Asian top dogs Bahrain, kings of Europe Spain, and African champs Egypt.

Six more are about to join.

Make sure to follow Olympic Channel on all social platforms for all the latest on Olympic qualification and coverage as the clock ticks down to Tokyo 2020 in summer 2021.