Spain must bounce back if they are to clinch their 12th appearance at the Olympic Games. RFEBM

Six places for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games are still up for grabs and will be awarded to the top two placed teams in the three Olympic Qualifying Tournaments, which will be held in Granollers (Spain), Hanover (Germany) and Tatabanya (Hungary) from 14-17 March.

With 12 teams in the starting line-up, there is no room for error and the 18 matches to be played over the next few days promise to deliver some excellent handball. The grand prize is a goal for all those involved, with the chance to take part in the next Olympic Games.

The Palau d'Esports de Granollers, the ZAG-Arena and the Tatabányai Multifunkcionális Sportcsarnok will be the three arenas ready to host the 12 teams that will be competing for a place at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, with the teams' dreams and history forever intertwined with these arenas.

Will Spain bounce back after a poor EHF Euro?

Spain have only missed out on the Olympic Games once since 1980, at Rio 2016, and will be hoping to write another page of history on their home ground in Granollers, where they will face Brazil, Bahrain and Slovenia. The "Hispanos" have won four bronze medals in the last six editions they have participated in - at Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000, Beijing 2008 and Tokyo 2020 - and will be determined to win gold this time around. 

After an underwhelming experience at the EHF EURO 2024, where they finished on the 13th place, Spain will be looking to improve their fortunes, with coach Jordi Ribera making several changes to the 19-man squad announced at the end of February. These include the comebacks of veterans like Gedeón Guardiola, Rodrigo Corrales and Antonio García Robledo, who turned 40 last week.

"These are going to be three difficult games, because every team wants to be at the Olympic Games, they are waiting because it is a great opportunity for everyone. I hope that playing at home, in a great venue like the Palau d'Esports de Granollers, will allow us to have a great atmosphere to support the team, because we will do everything we can," said coach Jordi Ribera. 

More than 11,000 fans are expected at the ZAG-Arena for the Olympic qualifying tournament #2, after Germany proved once again how important home support can be in such a competition. The "Mannschaft" finished fourth place at the EHF EURO 2024, with over 53,000 fans in Düsseldorf and over 15,000 fans in Berlin and Cologne. 

A strong mix of experience brought by Andreas Wolff and the exuberance of Juri Knorr, as well as several gold medallists at the IHF Men's Junior World Championships 2023, proved to be an excellent mix for Alfred Gislason. Germany looks well positioned to compete now and to be a powerhouse for the foreseeable future. A qualification for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris would only reinforce this feeling.

Handball-mad Germany host crucial Olympic qualifiers

One of the biggest storylines in the Olympic qualifying tournament, which features Germany, Croatia, Algeria and Austria, is undoubtedly how Croatia will fare under new coach Dagur Sigurdsson. 

The Icelandic ace, who has also coached the men's national teams of Germany and Japan, is the first foreign coach in Croatia's history and will be tasked with securing a ticket to Paris 2024, which could be Domagoj Duvnjak's last chance at the Olympics. 

Group of death in Tatabanya

The battle for a place at Paris 2024 will provide neutral fans with some dramatic moments at Olympic Qualifying Tournament #3 in Tatabánya, with three strong European side vying for two places, while underdog Tunisia play the role of the plucky outsider always capable of springing a surprise.

Hungary are aiming to return to the Olympic Games for the first time since London 2012, as coach Chema Rodriguez has stabilised a team that finished 5th at the IHF World Championship 2021, 8th at the IHF Men's World Championship 2023 and 5th at the EHF EURO 2024. 

However, they will face a tough challenge from Portugal and Norway, who both qualified for the last edition of the Olympic Games, Tokyo 2020. Portugal has some young blood in their squad, with brothers Kiko and Martim Costa shining last year, while Norway will be looking to rekindle their fire after some underwhelming performances in major international competitions, a far cry from their silver medals at the 2015 and 2017 IHF World Championships. 

It could go down to the wire, however, as Portugal has been there before, in the Tokyo 2020 Olympic qualifiers, when Paulo Pereira's side progressed after a last-gasp win over France in Montpellier and a shock elimination of Croatia in the process.

Can non-European sides spring a surprise?

Since the introduction of the Olympic qualifying tournaments, two of the four editions for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games have seen a non-European team reach the final competition. That happened at Rio 2016, when Tunisia went through, and at Tokyo 2020, when Brazil was the main protagonist.

Can the same happen in Paris 2024, where three European teams - hosts France, world champions Denmark and Sweden, third at EHF EURO 2024 - have already qualified? Two non-European teams - Bahrain and Brazil - are in the Olympic Qualification Tournament #1, with one non-European side - Algeria in the OQT #2 and Tunisia in the OQT #3.

Strength in numbers for the non-European sides comes in the Olympic Qualification Tournament #1, but both Brazil and Bahrain are underdogs against Spain and Slovenia. Bahrain are missing some key players due to suspensions for the 2024 AHF Asian Men's Handball Championship, while Brazil have both the experience and depth to challenge their European counterparts. 

Algeria's chances look slim against the likes of Germany and Croatia, while Tunisia, seeking their fifth Olympic appearance, will face a stern test against Hungary, Norway and Portugal.