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The 24 qualified teams for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games have learnt their fate at the official draw of the preliminary round of the competition, which took place on Tuesday, 16 April, in Creteil, at the Maison du Handball – The House of Handball – in Créteil, France.

The 12 teams in the men’s competition and the 12 teams in the women’s competition were previously divided into six pots, with the draw procedure seeing the teams in Pot 6 drawn first, followed by teams in Pot 5, Pot 3, Pot 2 and Pot 1.

France, the hosts, had the prerogative to select their group, as the reigning Olympic champions were in Pot 4, with the other side in both the men’s and the women’s competition heading into the other group.

For the men’s competition, the draw was carried out by former France left wing Siraba Dembélé, the second most capped player in France’s history, with 291 matches and the second best scorer, with 848 goals, who is also a world and European champion, plus a silver medallist at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games.

Group A looks already like a very well-balanced one, with five European teams, including former Olympic champions Croatia and Germany, as well as perennial contenders Spain and Sweden, with the latter two sides meeting in the 2023 IHF Men’s World Championship bronze medal match.

Slovenia and Japan completed Group A, as the coach which qualified the Asian side, Dagur Sigurdsson, will now face his former side, after taking over Croatia men’s national team last February.

With Denmark, Norway, Hungary, Egypt and Argentina waiting in Group B, France chose this option, as the last two Olympic finals, at Rio 2016 and Tokyo 2020, between the hosts and Denmark will now be re-enacted in the preliminary round.

“It is always very difficult to choose, because these are the toughest matches and the best teams in the world. Joking, it was a coin toss. We are expecting an amazing competition and when you see the overall quality, it will be an incredible fight,” said France’s coach, Guillaume Gille.

In fact, three of the top four placed sides at Tokyo 2020 – France, Denmark and Egypt – will be in this group, which already looks very balanced.

Paris 2024 Olympic Games – men’s competition

Group A: Spain, Croatia, Germany, Slovenia, Sweden, Japan
Group B: Denmark, Norway, Hungary, France, Egypt, Argentina
Hungary joined Germany and the Netherlands as one of the three Olympic Qualification Tournaments winners, after securing their third win in a row in Debrecen, 37:28, against Japan, sealing the first place with six points.

Olympic Qualification Tournament #1
Hungary vs Japan 37:28 (18:11)

The maths were simple, after one Paris 2024 Olympic Games ticket was already delivered after Sweden’s 52:8 win against Great Britain. Hungary had several options in their last match in Debrecen, which also included a loss by four goals or less against Japan, making them big favourites to qualify for Paris 2024.

Yet in front of over 5.000 Hungarian fans, Vladimir Golovin’s side was not going to crumble or give their fans any issues, riding a superb start and exploiting all of Japan’s issues, to create a healthy seven-goal lead at the break, 18:11, which proved to be unassailable in the end.

It took Hungary 10 minutes to finally settle into the match, but from that moment on, right back Katrin Klujber and right wing Viktória Győri-Lukács started firing from all cylinders, combining for 10 goals throughout the first half, with a stunning display of consistency.

Japan tried to weather the storm by using an aggressive seven-on-six attacking display, replacing their goalkeeper with an outfield player, but that went from bad to worse, as Hungary constantly forced turnovers – 12 of them in fact, in the first half – as the gap soared to seven goals at the break.

It went from bad to worse for Japan, which saw main defender Mika Nagata concede a red card only 90 seconds into the second half, with Klujber unstoppable from all parts of the court, as the right back reached the nine-goal mark and became the seventh player to score at least 20 goals in the three Olympic Qualification Tournaments.

Already under the cover of their big lead from the first half, Hungary played without pressure and delivered some excellent moments for their fans, including some outstanding goals, as Japan crumbled under their mistakes, especially in attack, where they continued to play the seven-on-six tactic.

Led by Klujber, who finished the match with 11 goals, improving her overall tally at the Olympic Qualification Tournaments to 23 goals, one goal less than the top goal scorer, Czechia’s Marketa Jerabkova, Hungary extended their lead to 12 goals, 29:17, with 10 minutes to go, as the players had already started their celebrations.

As Golovin rotated his squad and players which did not feature as prominently entered the court, Japan managed to cut the gap in the last 10 minutes, but it was too little, too late, with Hungary celebrating their third win in a row, 37:28, and punching the last available ticket for the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.

Hungary qualified for the eighth time at the Olympic Games and for the second time in a row, after they finished on the seventh place at Tokyo 2020, with a dominating display, controlling all matches and never falling behind in the 180 minutes they played in Debrecen.

On the other hand, Japan will be disappointed with a single win in this Olympic Qualification Tournament, having two big losses against Sweden and Hungary and failing to progress to the Paris 2024 Olympic Games after they were the hosts at Tokyo 2020 and finished on the 12th place.

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