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Olympic handball at Tokyo 2020: Top five things to know

Who qualified? Who are the top handball players at Tokyo 2020 in 2021? When and where will Olympic handball take place? What is the Olympic history of handball? Find out here.
By Ken Browne

Handball is one of 33 sports that will take place at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.

But who qualified and who are the players to watch? When will competition take place, and where will it be held? Ever wanted to know about the sport’s Olympic history?

Here is our guide to the top things to know about Olympic handball including a preview, schedule, and everything else you need.

Twelve men's and women's teams will throw off for handball supremacy in Japan this summer.

The reigning Olympic champions are out to defend their titles in Tokyo but a lot can change in five years!

On the women's side, the Russian handball team were hit hard by injuries at the December 2020 European championships and they didn’t even make the semi-finals.

It was Norway who dominated in Denmark, claiming an eight continental crown, and if they can keep star players fit then many see them as favourites to top the podium in the Japanese capital too.

World champions Netherlands will be determined to bounce back from a disappointing show at the Euros in Denmark.

And traditional powerhouse France - Euro 2020 runner-up, an ROC team that recovers their big guns, 'Hollywood' history makers Korea, can all present a serious case for podium places.

For the men, Denmark back themselves after a second straight World Championship victory at Egypt 2021 in January.

But they'll have to hold off European champions Spain, Tokyo 2020 runners-up France, an unpredictable Norway and runners-up in Egypt Sweden.

Beyond the European sides could Brazil or a rising young Egyptian team spring a surprise?

All the questions will be answered in Japan this summer.

Olympic handball competition format at Tokyo 2020

Twelve teams will compete in both the men's and women's competitions at Tokyo 2020. Teams will begin in a group phase with the top eight nations progressing into the knockout phase of the tournament.

The draw is as follows:

Men's tournament

Group A

Norway (qualified at the men's Olympic qualifying tournament)

France (qualified at the men's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Germany (qualified at the men's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Brazil (qualified at the men's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Spain (2020 Men’s EHF EURO - Champions)

Argentina (2019 Pan American Games - Champions)

Group B

Denmark (2019 IHF Men’s World Championship - Winners)

Sweden (qualified at the men's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Portugal (qualified at the men's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Japan (qualified as hosts)

Egypt (2020 CAHB Men’s African Championship - Winners)

Bahrain (2019 AHF Men’s Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament - Winners)

Women's tournament

Group A

Netherlands (2019 IHF Women’s World Championship - Winners)

Montenegro (qualified at the women's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Norway (qualified at the women's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Japan (qualified as hosts)

Republic of Korea (2019 AHF Women’s Asian Olympic Qualification Tournament - Winners )

Angola (2018 CAHB Women’s African Championship - Winners)

Group B

Spain (qualified at the women's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) (qualified at the women's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Hungary (qualified at the women's Olympic qualifying tournament)

Sweden (qualified at the women's Olympic qualifying tournament)

France (2018 Women’s EHF EURO - Champions)

Brazil (2019 Pan American Games - Champions)

Top Olympic handball players at Tokyo 2020

With the best handball players in the world ready to take over in Tokyo, it’s impossible to mention them all, but here are a few elite names to watch out for:

For Norway’s women the Stine Oftedal-Nora Mørk connection is electric (although Mørk is recovering from a knee injury and only took penalties in the qualifying tournament), allied to the minor miracles performed by goalkeeper Silje Solberg and the precision and experience of players like Camilla Herrem, a survivor from Norway's gold at London 2012.

READ: Nora Mørk - Eight things to know about Norway's comeback queen

France is stacked too, tenacious defender Grace Zaadi Deuna, top goalie Siraba Dembele Pavlovic, and Euro 2020 tournament MVP Estelle Nze-Minko give them a team with balance and plenty of firepower.

For the ROC team much will depend on the fitness of Anna Sen, Anna Vyakhireva, 19-year-old rising star Elena Mikhaylichencko and gold medallist Daria Dmitrieva.

Look out too for South Korea's star right back Ryu Eun-Hee.

In the men's competition, Mikkel Hansen, Niklas Landin, and Mads Mensah Larsen lead the Danish title defence.

And while France may be missing the talismanic Nikola Karabatic they have plenty of depth and youth with players like Dika Mem and Romain Lagarde, London 2012 gold medallist Cedric Sorhaindo and Luka, the other Karabatic.

Goalkeeper Wesley Pardin was brilliant at the Egypt 2021 Worlds too, and France are looking for a third gold medal in four Games.

Out to deny them are a Sander Sagosen-led Norway, and a quietly confident Brazil who boast Barcelona pair Haniel Langaro and Thiagus Petrus.

Egypt's rising goal-getter Yahia Khaled, and The Pharaoh's experienced Mohammad Sanad are also well worth a watch.

Then there's Spain who count the considerable talents of Gonzalo de Perez Vargas, sharp-shooter Aleix Gomez Abello and Raul Entrerrios among their ranks.

The European champions also boast handball's answer to basketball's Gasol brothers Alex and Dani Dujshebaev, PSG star Ferran Sole, all guided by the leadership of Jorge Maqueda Pena.

It's impossible to list all the players to watch here, but the best in the business will have their chance to shine on the biggest sporting stage there is in Tokyo.

Olympic handball schedule at Tokyo 2020

Handball at the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics will happen from Saturday 24 July, to Sunday 8 August 8, 2021.

Here's a basic schedule:

Preliminary Groups: Sat 24 July - Mon 2 August

Men's Quarterfinals: Tue 3 August

Women's Quarterfinals: Wed 4 August

Men's Semi-finals: Thu 5 August

Women's Semi-finals: Fri 6 August

Men's Bronze Medal Match: Sat 7 August 17:00 - 19:00

Men's final: Sat 7 August 21:00 - 23:30

Women's Bronze Medal Match: Sun 8 August 11:00 - 13:00

Women's final: Sun 8 August 21:00 - 23:30

Olympic handball venue at Tokyo 2020

Handball at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics will take place at the Yoyogi National Stadium, which has also hosted Asian Basketball Championships, the first ever NHL ice hockey regular season game outside of North America, the 1985 World Figure Skating Championships, the 2006 & 2012 Women's Volleyball World Championships and a Westlife concert.

Olympic handball history

The sport of handball traces its roots back to Denmark, Sweden and Germany in the late 19th century.

Originally played outdoors as field handball, the sport first appeared at the Berlin 1936 Games.

The modern indoor version made its Olympic debut at Munich 1972 with the men's tournament, which was initially dominated by the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

In more recent times Croatia have won two gold medals, as have France, and Denmark took their maiden Olympic gold at Rio 2016.

The first women's competition was held at the Montreal 1976 Games. Both men's and women's handball has featured at every Olympic Games since.

Denmark are the most successful team in women's Olympic handball history, topping the podium three times in a row from Atlanta 96, Sydney 2000, and on to Athens 2004.

Norway were champions at Beijing 2008 and London 2012, while Russia were crowned Olympic champions at Rio 2016.