The French men's handball team has qualified for Tokyo after a nerve-racking Olympic qualifying tournament (OQT). They’ve now passed a major milestone… but a lot of work remains to be done!
8th qualification in a row...
To get a good idea of the scale of the emotions inspired by this Olympic qualifying tournament in Montpellier, simply ask the players representing Croatia, a great handball nation, just how disappointed they feel… But the main thing for French supporters, of course, is that their men's team has qualified for Tokyo (July 23 to August 8), their eighth Games in a row!
The team managed by Guillaume Gille emerged victorious in this nerve-racking tournament. Of course, in these elimination and qualifying rounds, the matches are always extremely stressful because the players and coaches are fully aware of just how much is riding on their performance. Guillaume Gille took over the French men's handball team after it finished 14th in the Euro 2020 championships. He then led the team to the World Cup semi-finals in January before working towards the next – and it could be said the principal – objective: to qualify Les Bleus for Tokyo. The general public in France always sees their handball team in the light of the extraordinary record of achievements built up over the past 20 years or more. But appearances can be deceptive because only two of the so-called “Experts” are still on the team: Luc Abalo and Michaël Guigou, respectively 36 and 39 years of age. The French team consequently needs rebuilding… a huge task that has fallen to Guillaume Gille. And, as the disappointed Croatia players will tell you, a track record of achievement is not sufficient alone to win a place at the Olympic Games!
The Montpellier OQT brought together France, Croatia, Portugal, and Tunisia with two places at Tokyo up for grabs.
Emphasis on honing an attacking style
France began with a decisive match against Croatia, winning 30-26, before comfortably beating Tunisia 40-29 in what could have been a tricky game. The size of the final score allowed them to qualify thanks to the goal differential despite facing defeat in the last 15 seconds of their match against a marvelous Portuguese side who went on to qualify for their first Olympic Games.
France and Portugal will therefore be joining Japan, the host nation; Denmark, the 2019 world champions; Spain, the 2020 European champions; Egypt, the reigning African champions; Argentina, winner of the 2019 Pan American Games; Bahrain, the Asian qualifying tournament winner, and the winners of the other two OQTs: Norway, Brazil, Germany, and Sweden.
Guillaume Gille has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants bring his team up to a level that would make them serious contenders for Olympic gold. He has to define and organize a collective attacking style and develop a counter-attacking response that has long been the French team’s strong point with its defense. He will then have to select 14 players from among the members of the team competing in this OQT in addition to the players returning from injuries, notably the return of Nikola Karabatic. These choices are important in that they will define the French team’s future strategy if, for example, he chooses an additional pivot player rather than another backcourt player... Guillaume Gille will be meeting his players at the end of April for two Euro 2022 qualifying matches against Greece. The preparation for Tokyo will then begin in earnest in mid-June: only a few weeks to get physically and mentally ready to pursue the legend of French handball!