Last tickets to Tokyo! Women's handball Olympic qualifiers preview and schedule

Three Olympic qualifying tournaments in March will decide the last six of 12 teams to play for gold and glory in summer 2021: Here's everything you need including previews, schedule, who to watch, and how to stream games live

By Ken Browne

Which women's teams will play handball at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021?

We're about to find out: Six teams have qualified and six more spots are up for grabs at three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments in Spain, Hungary, and Montenegro from 19-21 March.

Can December 2020 European champions Norway, led by Stine Oftedal and an injured Nora Mork challenge for a third gold medal? Will the Russian Olympic Committee recover key players like Elena Mikhaylichenko and Anna Sen giving them a shot at defending their Rio 2016 Olympic title?

A weekend of gripping handball will reveal all.

So when and where are the qualifying tournaments? Which teams have a chance to qualify? Which handball superstars are playing? And how can the games be live-streamed?

All those questions and more are answered here:

When are the women's Olympic handball qualifying tournaments?

The three Women's Handball Qualification Tournaments for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games in 2021 will happen simultaneously from 19 to 21 March 2021.

Originally scheduled to be held from 20 to 22 March 2020, they were moved to March 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Where are the women's Olympic handball qualifiers being played?

Tournament 1: Livia, Spain

Tournament 2: Győr, Hungary

Tournament 3: Podgorica, Montenegro

Who will play in the women's Olympic handball tournaments?

A total of 12 teams were originally due to play, with four drawn in each of the tournaments.

Senegal withdrew their participation from Tournament 1, while China also pulled out of the event due to Covid-related travel restrictions.

The 10 remaining teams battling for the six remaining places available in Japan this July therefore are:

Tournament 1: Spain (ESP), Sweden (SWE), Argentina (ARG).

Tournament 2: Russian Olympic Committee (ROC), Serbia (SRB), Kazakhstan (KAZ), Hungary (HUN)

Tournament 3: Norway (NOR), Montenegro (MNE), Romania (ROU)

How teams qualify:

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

If things get tight it comes down to the following, in order:

Rules for qualification: 1) Points; 2) Head-to-head points; 3) Head-to-head goal difference; 4) Head-to-head goals scored; 5) Goal difference; 6) Goals scored; 7) Draw.

Handball Olympic qualifying tournaments schedule and how to watch

(All times local to host country, and subject to change):

Tournament 1

19 March

SEN vs ARG 6:15pm

ESP vs SWE 9pm

20 March

SWE vs ARG 6:15pm

ESP vs SEN 9pm

21 March

SWE vs SEN 6pm

ARG vs ESP 8:30pm

Tournament 2

19 March

KAZ vs HUN 5pm

ROC vs SER 8pm

20 March

SER vs HUN 5:30pm

ROC vs KAZ 8:30pm

21 March

SER vs KAZ 5:30pm

HUN vs ROC 8:30pm

Tournament 3

19 March

NOR vs MNE 7:30pm

20 March

NOR vs ROU 7:30pm

21 March

MON vs ROU 4pm

Scroll down for previews of all three tournaments.

How to watch the Tokyo 2020 Handball Qualification Tournaments matches live

There will be games from each of the tournaments streamed live via the IHF - Competitions YouTube channel.

Broadcast coverage in some regions will only be available through a rights-holding broadcaster or website, details of which can be found on the International Handball Federation website

Tournament 1 - Spain and Sweden reload

2019 World Championships runners-up Spain lost out by a last-minute penalty to the Netherlands in the final and went into Euro 2020 among the favourites.

But a disappointing 9th place finish in Denmark means 'Las Guerreras' are on the warpath and set on making their third straight Olympics.

Carmen Martin, Lara Gonzalez, and goalkeeper Silvia Navarro were Spain's stand-outs at the Euros, and they'll need to come up big again. But they'll need some help from next-gen talents like 21-year-old line player Elisabet Cesareo.

A home tournament gives Spain a shot at making 2021 their year with the Olympics in July/August and then a home World champs coming up in December.

“We have everything to play for, this is the moment of truth for us, because it is a tournament which features three games in three days. There are no easy opponents at this stage” - Spain coach Carlos Viver to the Spanish Handball Federation’s official website.

Sweden hit refresh

But Spain will face a Sweden side that has the upper hand in their recent encounters, Sweden have won four of five last meetings and this new-look Swedish side is young and hungry.

The Swedes finished 11th in Denmark, their worst finish at a big tournament in over ten years, and coach Tomas Axner has rung the changes.

With the brilliant Bella Gullden and influential defender Salina Jacobsen both retiring, Sweden have space for some young guns and their squad is a strong blend of youth and experience.

25-year-old centre-back Jenny Carlson who plays for Holstebro Håndbold will make her debut alongside seasoned internationals Jamina Roberts and Johanna Westberg.

Argentina will be seen as the underdogs in this group following the withdrawal of a Senegal side who were on the way up under coach Frederic Bougeant and featuring star goalkeeper Hatadou Sako who plays in France.

The Argentinians did qualify for Rio 2016 five years ago. Keep an eye on Argentine stars Luciana Mendoza and Elke Karsten.

Tournament 2 preview: Close call

With the ROC, Serbia, Hungary, and Kazakhstan all vying for two Olympic berths, this group is going to be tough.

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

Russia's reigning Olympic champs struggled at the Euros without some of their big stars in Denmark but still managed to finish fifth, with no doubts about what they're aiming at in 2021.

Hosts Hungary won't have the benefit of a packed stand in Gyor as these Olympic qualifiers will be held without spectators, but playing on home soil is usually an advantage in itself.

Young Hungarian talents like Katrin Klujber and Noemi Hafra have graduated to the senior side after the 2018 IHF Women’s Junior World Championship triumph, allied to the experience of Aniko Kovacics and Viktoria Lukacs, making Hungary a strong prospect for qualification.

Hungary finished 10th and Serbia 13th at the Euros, and it's expected to be close between the two.

For Serbia, others will have to stand up in the absence of Andrea Lekic, while Kazakhstan will be up against it.

It will be good international experience for a Kazakh team who stepped in after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea withdrew in early 2020.

Tournament 3 preview: History repeating for Norway?

When Norway won European titles before Beijing 2008 and London 2012 they went on to win Olympic gold on both occasions.

Could they do the same this year? They'll have to qualify first.

A knee injury for star player Nora Mork at her club Vipers in February was initially said just to be a scare, but she hasn't played since, and while she will be involved in the Norway team her participation is likely to be limited. The Norwegians will miss that on-court kinesis between her and Stine Oftedal.

This group only has three teams and the likely battle between Romania and Montenegro for that other golden ticket to Tokyo should be a fascinating one.

Can the unstoppable Cristina Neagu lead Romania to Tokyo? She's been in stunning form for CSM Bucaresti of late.

But Montenegro finished 8th to Romania's 12th in Denmark last December, and this could easily come down to just one game, 60 minutes to decide who's going to the Olympics.

Will Montenegro's home advantage tip the balance?

Don't miss it!

Who has qualified for the Tokyo Olympics?

Here are the six teams that have already qualified for Tokyo 2020:

Hosts Japan, 2018 European champs France, 2019 Pan Am champs Brazil, Asian qualifiers South Korea, African Olympic Qualifying Tournament champions Angola, and 2019 World champs the Netherlands.

Six more are about to join.

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