Women's handball wraps up preliminary play at the 2012 Olympics on Sunday with all eight quarterfinal qualifiers already determined. That means today's six games will see plenty of jockeying for seeding. Follow me after the jump for details.
Note that IHF scoring awards 2 points for a win and 1 for a draw.
Current Standings: 1. Russia, 2. Brazil, 3. Croatia, 4. Montenegro, 5. Angola (eliminated), 6. Great Britain (eliminated)
Russia, Brazil, and Croatia all sit on 7 points. Brazil beat Croatia, who beat Russia, who beat Brazil. That means the top three positions for Group A in the knockout phase will come down to goal difference, provided there aren't any strange results on Sunday. The 2008 silver medalists from Russians, who are in the best position in that statistic (+26) are in the worst position to improve, as they take on the team locked into position A4, Montenegro (4 points) (9:30 a.m. ET). The first-timers qualified by virtue of victories over eliminated Angola (2 points) and Great Britain (0 points). Brazil (+12) will also struggle to move up, as they take on an Angolan team (6:15 a.m. ET) that has been quite competitive so far (their goal difference is only -7 even though they've only defeated the hosts, as their worst losses have come by just five goals). On the other hand, Croatia who has the slenderest goal difference (+7) is in best position to improve, as they take on the British in the final game of the group (1:15 p.m. ET).
Given the matchups and current state of the tiebreaker, it's going to be difficult for the Croatians to overhaul Russia for the top spot, even with a game against Great Britain on the horizon, but catching the Brazilians is very possible.
Projected Standings: 1. Russia (9 pts.), 2. Croatia (9 pts.), 3. Brazil (9 pts.), 4. Montenegro (4 pts.), 5. Angola (2 pts.), 6. Great Britain (0 pts.)
Current Standings: 1. France, 2. Norway, 3. South Korea, 4. Spain, 5. Denmark (eliminated), 6. Sweden (eliminated)
This group has been razor close so far, thanks to draws between Norway (5 points) and South Korea (5 points) and France (7 points) and Spain (5 points), and a multitude of close results. Group leaders France aren't guaranteed to stay on top, even if they are playing eliminated Denmark (2 points) (4:15 p.m. ET). That's because the Danes -- fourth-place finisher in both the 2010 European and 2011 World Championships -- aren't your typical early elimination, as they've lost two games by a single goal. However. the French's goal difference advantage (+16) might be enough to save them in case of a loss. South Korea can't take its game with 2010 European runner-up Sweden (0 points) (4:30 a.m. ET) lightly either. With a goal difference of just +2, the Koreans will probably be unable to catch the French in the event the teams end up tied on points. The same goes for the Norwegians (+3) and Spanish (0) who meet in the only game between quarterfinalists scheduled in Group B on Sunday (2:30 p.m. ET).
Projected Standings: 1. France (8 pts.), 2. Norway (7 pts.), 3. South Korea (6 pts.), 4. Spain (5 pts.), 5. Denmark (3 pts.), 6. Sweden (1 pt.)
So, with the tiebreakers taken into account, my projected quarterfinal bracket for women's handball looks like this, starting at the top.
(A1) Russia vs. (B4) Spain
(B2) Norway vs. (A3) Brazil
(A2) Croatia vs. (B3) South Korea
(B1) France vs. (A4) Montenegro
Norway has dominated internationally of late, as they've won the last Olympic gold medal, World Championship, and the last two European titles. France, the team they defeated for the 2011 World crown, would sit on the opposite end of the bracket if this projection turns out to be correct. However, Russia, who knocked the Norwegians out in the semifinals of the 2009 World Championships en route to the crown, would be a more immediate concern, as the two would meet in the second knockout game for this event.
UPDATE: Top position in Group A ended up going to Brazil, by virtue of their win over Croatia, who finished second. Both of those teams can thank Montenegro, who held Russia to a draw, a result that knocked my projected group winner down to third place. In Group B, Spain stunned the Norwegians, which dropped the defending champions down to 4th place, behind France, South Korea, and the Spanish.
That means Tuesday's quarterfinals look like this.
Russia Brazil vs. (B4) Spain Norway, 5 a.m. ET
Norway South Korea vs. (A3) Brazil Russia, 8:30 a.m. ET (Top half semifinal Thursday at 12 p.m. ET)
(A2) Croatia vs. (B3)
South Korea Spain, 12 p.m. ET
(B1) France vs. (A4) Montenegro, 3:30 p.m. ET (Bottom half semifinal Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET)
In a change from four years ago, there will be no classification matches for teams eliminated in the quarterfinals.
At the semifinal stage, action shifts from the Copper Box to the Basketball Arena, as that building's namesake sport moves over to the North Greenwich Arena.
The bronze medal game is set for Saturday at 7 a.m. ET, with the final following at 10:30 a.m. ET.
Who are your picks for the medals?
Follow Mr. Dobbertean's Olympic thoughts on his personal Twitter account.