Croatia on trail of third handball gold at London 2012
Tuesday, 10 April 2012
April 10 - Two times Olympic gold medallists Croatia has qualified for the London 2012 Olympic Games handball tournament following the European men's qualifiers.
Croatia is joined by Iceland, which it defeated beat in its final qualifier in Varazdin, Croatia, as well as Sweden, Hungary, Serbia and Spain, following competitions taking place across the continent.
Croatia and Beijing 2008 silver medallists Iceland had competed alongside Japan and Chile for two spots in London this summer, and the European sides beat their rivals with ease to seal their Olympic tickets.
"We are as hungry as ever to get results and we will go to London with the ambition to win another medal – but we can't promise one because it will be a very strong field," said Croatia coach Slavko Goluža, a member of his country's two Olympic winning teams in 1996 and 2004.
"We now have enough time to improve and hit top form for the Olympics because I saw some chinks in our armour, too."
Iceland coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson commented: "It was our goal to win this tournament, and even though we gave our best our energy was not sufficient to win.
"Croatia is a great team and a great opponent.
"We are a little bit disappointed, but we are in London – and that is the most important fact."
Three times Olympic runners-up Sweden hosted another qualifying tournament, and overcame Hungary, Brazil and Macedonia to top the group.
Despite a narrow defeat to its hosts in Gothenburg, Hungary edged out Brazil and Macedonia.
The final match resulted in the Swedes winning a closely fought game against Hungary 26-23.
Lajos Mocsai, the Hungarian coach, said afterwards: "Both teams had the chance to win, but Sweden was better in the last 10 minutes of a real fair game.
"This match was the first day of our preparation for the Olympics."
Sweden coach Ola Lindgren commented: "It was a fair game and both teams gave opportunities to younger players in this match, which was something like a friendly game.
"I am really satisfied with three victories in three days and the qualification to London."
Veselin Vukovic's Serbia team made it out of qualifiers in Alicante, Spain, after crushing Algeria, having earlier drawn with Poland and lost to the hosts.
"The important thing is that we have traced the path to a consistent run because having won the European Championships silver medal, we will now take part in the Olympics and next year's World Championships in Spain," said Vukovic, a part of the Yugoslav team which won gold at the 1984 Olympics.
"Fans should not expect us to win a medal in each major event we reach although miracles do happen with a bit of luck."
Spain (pictured below, versus Poland) also qualified after beating Algeria and Poland in style in Alicante to top the group.
Coach Valero Rivera said he had few doubts about his team: "I had no doubt that the team would deliver.
"We have to keep growing – we have not reached the top and we can still believe anything."
The line-up for London 2012 is now complete as these six nations join hosts Great Britain, world champions France, European champions Denmark, South Korea, African title holder Tunisia and Argentina.
The International Handball Federation has confirmed the seedings for the preliminary round draw in London on May 30.
That draw will see two groups of six drawn; following the round-robin section, the top four teams in each will advance to the quarter-finals.
France and Spain comprise pot one, Croatia and Sweden are in pot two, with Iceland and Hungary (three), Serbia and Britain (four), Denmark and Argentina (five) and South Korea and Tunisia (six) in the other pots.
Final qualifying games for the women's tournament will take place in May.