Handball: Gold for France, Olympic ticket for Sweden and Pre-Olympic set

The most exciting EHF European Championship came to an end this Sunday in Germany with an emotional 33-31 (26-26) overtime victory for France over Denmark, who won the title for the fourth time, one less than leaders Sweden.

It was the best possible end to a championship that broke all the records for attendance, quality of venues and TV coverage. After an astonishing 53,586 spectators at the Merkur-Spiel-Arena in Düsseldorf on the first day of the competition, all the venues were full and the almost unrealistic target of one million spectators was finally reached: 1,008,660!!!

Sunday was important for the medals and also for the Olympics. After France and Denmark had already qualified for Paris 2024, the EHF EURO 2024 ticket was up for grabs. Sweden and hosts Germany played a great match and the crowd couldn't stop them from winning the double. 

In front of 20,000 fans, the Scandinavians controlled the pressure better and led 18-12 at half-time. Germany, tired and with the German-Latvian Renars Uscins at the top of the scoreboard, came back to make it 30-29 with six minutes remaining, but then Palicka's saves and Felix Claar's magical performance proved decisive. 

Nikola Karabatic is already something of a legend in the world of sport. EHF
Nikola Karabatic is already something of a legend in the world of sport. EHF

Sweden won 34-31 to take both bronze medals and a direct place at next summer's Olympic Games in Paris. It was a great ending after what happened on Friday, when they missed out on the final against France due to a refereeing error when they allowed an illegal short from Elohim Prandi with no time on the clock to give the 'Yellows' a 26-27 win. "I don't know why they have this VAR screen. It's scandalous", bramed FC Barcelona player Jonathan Carlsbogard. 

After the bronze medal match, it was time for the final, where the Germans once again proved their love of handball. Despite the deception in the bronze medal game, no one moved from their seats and the last match of the EHF EURO was played in an amazing atmosphere with a lot of passion and 20,000 people in the Lanxess Arena, Colonia, the modern temple of handball.  

The final was very close, with the Danish goalkeeper Emil Nielsen (FC Barcelona) stopping the reigning Olympic champions despite a new exhibition from French line player Ludovic Fàbregas (Telekom Veszprém). In the other goal, the genius of Mathias Gidsel (Füchse Berlin) was on display.

The score was 14-14 at half-time, and nothing changed after Gidsel made it 26-27 and the Danes had the ball with 30 seconds remaining. The Scandinavians didn't score and Fàbregas sent the final into extra time (27-27), where 'Les Bleus' controlled the game with Elohim Prandi (PSG) scoring and Samir Bellahcene (THW Kiel) making great saves to win 34-31. 

France celebrated another success with captain Nikola Karabatic (PSG), 38, winning his 17th medal in a major championship in the final season of an astonishing career. Despite the physical problems that prevented him from playing in the final (just a few minutes), 'Niko' will be fighting for his fourth Olympic gold medal at Paris 2024, confirming his place as one of the greatest athletes in the history of all sports. 

Africa and Asia also held their continental championships with the Pre-Olympic tournaments in mind. In Africa, a ticket to the Games was up for grabs for the winner and, as expected, it was Egypt, coached by Spain's Juan Carlos Pastor. He won the World Cup in 2005 as the coach of the 'Hispanos'. 

The Pharaohs, who finished fourth at the last Olympics, gave Algeria no chance in the final, winning 29-21 with goalkeeper Karim Hendawi (al-Safa) and MVP Yehya El-Deraa (Limoges) leading the way to claim their third successive African title in a row and ninth overall. 

Egypt won the African championship and a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics. IHF
Egypt won the African championship and a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics. IHF

The win also sees them move up from the Pre-Olympics to the direct qualifying places, marking a significant change in the format of the three tournaments. Tunisia took bronze thanks to a 28-35 win over Cape Verde. The four teams, plus Guinea for the first time in history, have qualified for the 2025 World Championship, which will be hosted by Croatia, Denmark and Norway.

Without a ticket to the Olympics, Asia also had its major championship, with Qatar winning a sixth successive gold medal, but not with iconic Spanish coach Valero Rivera, who was sacked after losing all his options for Paris 2024. The Emiratis beat Japan 30-24 in the final, while Bahrain took bronze with a 26-17 win over Kuwait.

Pre-Olympic tournaments:

Hosts France, Denmark, Sweden, Japan, Argentina and Egypt have already qualified for the men's handball Olympic Games, and six more places are up for grabs in the three pre-Olympic tournaments to be held from 14-17 March, with prizes for the top two teams in each group. 

The International Handball Federation will announce the venues shortly, after deciding between the countries that have applied in time, such as Spain.

2024 Olympic Qualifying Tournament 1:

-Spain (3rd from World Championship).

-Slovenia (10th from World ).

-Bahrain (2nd from Asia).

-Brazil (2nd from the Americas).

2024 Olympic Qualifying Tournament 2:

-Germany (5th from World).

-Croatia (9th from World).

-Algeria (2nd from Africa).

-Austria (8th from Europe).

2024 Olympic Qualifying Tournament 3:

-Norway (6th from World)

-Hungary (8th from World).

-Portugal (7th from Europe).

-Tunisia (3rd from Africa).