Friday, 17 August 2012

London 2012 Olympics - Handball

8th August 2012

Hungary 34-33 Iceland
(Men’s Handball quarter-final)

I was quite looking forward to the Handball at London2012.  I could remember watching the sport on TV perhaps a couple of times over the years – probably at previous Olympics.  It always struck me as an odd combination of football and basketball – one in which being a goalkeeper looked no fun at all.  He/She being condemned to flail around like a Wizard of Oz scarecrow to minimal effect, as the ball flew past with dispiriting regularity.

The London2012 Handball tournament began in The Copper Box, but once the group stages were complete moved to the larger Basketball Arena….or The Mattress, as it had been nicknamed.  And it was as I was approaching the white fluffy-looking structure that I first became aware of a number of folks holding up hastily scribbled messages on newspapers, pieces of cardboard, anything to hand really.

Investigating I discovered these were people looking to exchange Handball tickets.  The majority of these individuals, who numbered in the dozens rather than hundreds, appeared to be either French or Swedish, and a glance at the group standings board for the Handball tournament swiftly told why.  

Iceland, very much against the form book apparently, had succeeded in topping group A ahead of the joint favourites Sweden and France.  Consequently a large number of supporters of these two sides, who had plainly bought their tickets assuming (or at least hoping) their side would be in this particular quarter-final, now found themselves clutching briefs for an Iceland v Bulgaria tie.  Hence the desperate desire to swop.

It set me thinking that such instances must occur all the time, particularly at large tournaments such as the World Cup and The Euros, and really must be a tout’s wet dream.  

But here were clearly true supporters, and I could not help but feel rather sorry for these folks who had travelled so far to support their own country, yet were ending up having to watch another.  A few approached the ticket booth seeking help, but I could tell from the shaking heads that the staff were not interested.  

Surely, I thought, it should not have been an insurmountable task to have introduced a little Multi-Coloured Swop-Shop booth in the Olympic Park somewhere to facilitate genuine ticket trades – I later saw the same hopeful faces and pleading notes outside the Water Polo and Basketball venues.  

Yes, it would have been a pain in the neck for Locog to organise, but would it really have been so difficult to go this extra mile to help out fans who had travelled not inconsiderable distances to attend.  Surely 3 or 4 friendly Games Makers could have been freed up for such a service.

Whether many of these folks successfully managed to trade I do not know – a quartet of yellow-shirted Swedes who were looking to exchange tickets for a later quarter-final I know were unsuccessful, for I saw them inside.  

In the seats next to mine, I watched two French girls writing their plea for a semi-final tickets exchange on the backs of their white t–shirts; one was offering kisses to help sweeten any trade.  It did make me wonder what may later have been on offer, once the deadline for the French semi-final approached.

Hungary v Iceland - London 2012 Handball 

Hungary v Iceland - London 2012 Handball 

But for neutrals, like me, who ended up being compelled to watch this match we were certainly treated to some riveting entertainment.  

Hungary, who had only just scraped into the quarter-finals with a narrow win over Serbia, swiftly built up a 5-1 lead before being equally swiftly pegged back to 6-6.  Iceland briefly led 12-11, but the Hungarian lads hungry for points (oh dear) stepped up a gear, and found themselves with deserved lead of 16-12 at the break.

The Icelandic goalkeeper (are they called goalkeepers in Handball?), had been becoming more and more agitated with each goal he conceded, so that towards the end of the first-held he had begun to resemble nothing so much as a blond Basil Fawlty throwing a wobbly.  The poor chap (Bjorgvin Gustavsson, I think he was called), was mercifully replaced during the break.

The second half produced more of the same with Iceland doggedly chiselling away at their opponents’ lead, even occasionally drawing level, but inevitably conceding once more almost immediately.  

As play swung dizzyingly from end to end, I began to realise just how important it was to score when one had the ball.  Possession which ended with an unsuccessful attempt on goal appeared at times to raise a greater cheer than an actual score, such was the importance to the ebb and flow of proceedings.

Iceland finally succeeded in regaining the lead 27-26 with just two minutes remaining, and when with just 15 seconds left they were awarded a penalty that looked the end of that.  

But not only did Hungarian ‘keeper Nandor Fazekas save the penalty (an outcome extremely rare in Handball, I am guessing), but he had the presence of mind to set up colleague Mate Lekai to equalise with just three seconds on the clock.  Phew!!

They play two periods of 5 minutes extra-time in Handball and then, if scores are still tied, a further 2x5mins before moving to a penalty shootout.  A bit convoluted I thought, and even the arena announcer seemed unsure of exactly how the format panned out.

We had a flurry of scores during the first 10 minutes, it being the Hungarians’ turn to miss a penalty and, as the scores finished 30-30 we were treated to yet another 10 minutes.  And it was during this final period that Hungary’s Laszlo Nagy came into his own, scoring a hat-trick in a four minute spell to help guide his side to an eventual 34-33 victory.

At time-up the Hungarians hugged and cavorted around as if they had won the title, the distraught Icelanders were left to rue that missed penalty, whilst us mere spectators were relieved just to sit back in our seats for a few moments to catch our breath.    

Hungary v Iceland - London 2012 Handball 

Hungary in white defend.


Panorama of The Basketball Arena, Olympic Park, London

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