Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Croatia returns to the Olympic Games as the defending team handball champions. They will be joined in the field of 12 by silver medalists Germany and bronze medalists Russia. Team USA failed in its bid to qualify for Beijing after losing in the Pan American Games last year.
Joining Croatia will be Spain, France, Iceland, Poland, Russia, Germany, Brazil, China, Denmark Egypt, Korea
For Croatia, it has won two of the last three gold medals at the Summer Olympics (1996, Atlanta). In the gold medal game, they rallied to beat a stubborn German squad, 26-24, despite trailing by 10 goals at halftime. Mirza Dzomba was the hero with eight goals. Croatia also won the World Men's Handball Championship in 2003.
Dzomba will be the man to watch in the tournament. He has made over 170 international appearances and has been called the World's best player and been named Player of the Year. Joining Dzomba on the powerful Croatian squad are playmaker Ivano Balic and two-way star Petar Metlicic, who serves as team captain. Baltic is relatively new on the international scene, while Metlicic is a solid defensive stalworth for the Croats. Metlicic, who is capable of adding to the offense, has tallied over 400 goals in his career.
Following its poor performance in the gold medal game, Germany finished ninth in the 2005 World Championship. However, Coach Heiner Brand guided his club to a World Championship title in 2007. Pascal Hens, a 28-year-old left back with a funky hairstyle, is Germany's young gun. The flashy 6-foot-8 Hens recently tallied 31 goals in eight matches in the European Championships.
On the women's side, it was a stunning setback for Denmark, as the three-time defending gold medalists failed to make the 12-women field in Beijing. Korea, with two career gold medals and three second-place finishes, will be heavily favored in the tournament.
Joining the Koreans will be China, Germany, Angola, Brazil, Korea, France, Hungary, Kazakhstan, Norway, Romania, Russia and Sweden
The Men's tournament is slated to begin on Sunday, August 10th, while the women start one day earlier on the eighth. The preliminary competitions will be held at Olympic Sports Center Gymnasium and the finals will be held at the National Indoor Stadium.
07/17 13:11:09 ET