16 - 22 September 1999
Issue No. 447
|Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875|
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Down but not outBy Inas Mazhar
Spurred on by a noisy crowd, Egypt produced a stunning second-half comeback to defeat Japan 26-25 in the bronze medal play-off game at the Southern Cross International Handball Challenge in Australia. Meanwhile, defending world champions Sweden beat Croatia, gold medal winner at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, 30-23 for the gold medal.
Japan looked to be headed for the upset of the tournament, leading the world's seventh best side 15-8 at half-time. Tension grew as Japan held their lead by six goals with 10 minutes left. Two of their powerhouse players, Masanori Iwamoto and captain Takashi Fujii, scored several long-range shots that looked to have the match sealed up. Along with this onslaught, a number of refereeing decisions also appeared to rattle Egypt, enabling the Asian side to open up a seemingly unassailable lead.
But before too long, the Egyptians were lifted by Saber Hussein and Ashraf Awwad, who each took six goals. From a 15-21 deficit, Egypt scored 11 goals to Japan's four in the last minutes to power our way to a narrow one-goal victory.
The loud and predominantly Egyptian crowd in Sydney may well have made the difference. The Japanese players attributed their mistakes to the boisterous atmosphere, while the Egyptians said it made them feel right at home.
A goal in the last second by substitute Zlaltko Saracevic gave Croatia a 25-24 win in Egypt's opening game. The goal capped an emphatic comeback by the Croatians who had trailed by up to three goals for most of the match. Egypt established a 14-11 lead in the first half, and it wasn't until three minutes before full time that the scores were levelled. Aggressive and very physical defence from both sides saw a lot of turnovers and fast break opportunities. After the match, the Croatians conceded the result could have gone either way. The Egyptian side, meanwhile, was not too concerned about the result in the context of the tournament, and was generally pleased with the performance of some of their newer players.
Egypt then ended Belarus' medal campaign, defeating them 29-25. In a tough game, Egypt used an 'in-your-face' style defence to leave Belarus to play for fifth and sixth position. But the aggressive defending was not without its consequences, as the suspension count reached seven, at one stage leaving Egypt with only four players and the goalie.
In the semi-finals, the Egyptians were narrowly defeated 30-31. The match was close with each team taking the lead by turns throughout the game. The first half ended 18-14 in Sweden's favour, but Sherif Moemen brought the score to 30-30 with just 20 seconds remaining. With only five seconds left, Mathias Franzen scored the winning goal. On the full time mark, a defensive foul was called against Sweden which allowed Egypt to have one final attempt at levelling the score, but the chance slipped by.
Peter Mublameter of the International Handball Federation later acknowledged that Spanish referees Galligo and Lamas, officiating in a match with Egypt for the third consecutive time, had committed mistakes which prevented the Egyptians from reaching the finals.
Reigning world champions Denmark defeated Norway 25-21 in the final of the women's division. The Danes led from start to finish to claim the gold medal and avenge their recent European championship loss to their Scandinavian arch rivals.
In the battle for the bronze medal, Hungary defeated Korea 26-22. The two teams stood neck and neck for the first 45 minutes. In the second half, Korea's fortunes changed after star player Soon Yung-Huh received a red card, while two other players were given two-minute suspensions. Hungary seized the opportunity and began to pull ahead.
For Australia, whose men's and women's teams finished last, the tournament confirmed that they won't be among the medal contenders in the Olympic Games. But it also proved that handball in Australia has a future.