Al-Ahram Weekly Online   22 - 28 April 2004
Issue No. 687
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Give and take

Egypt reclaimed Africa's handball championship. Inas Mazhar writes on the change in situation

Click to view caption
Hussein Zaki of Egypt rises to the occasion in the final against Tunisia
photo: Heshim Abu-El-Amayim

Egypt beat defending champions Tunisia to claim the 16th African Handball Championship.

The win, achieved in Cairo on Sunday night, thus avenged Egypt's loss to the Tunisians in the semi-final of the same event in Morocco in 2002.

Egypt won Sunday's final 31-28 -- half-time was 20-12 -- to claim the title for the fourth time in its history. Previous wins were in 1991, 1992 and 2000. However, the Tunisians and the Algerians have won the championship six times apiece.

Egypt's German head coach Lomeil, who took over in July last year, said he was delighted with the national team. "I think we are going in the right direction," Lomeil said. "I was appointed to do five things -- win the African championship, qualify for the World Championships, lead Egypt to the Olympic Games in Athens and improve Egypt's place in the latter two championships."

Lomeil has succeeded in the first three endeavors.

Egypt bested Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco in September in Olympics qualifications in Angola and will represent Africa in Athens. Egypt also regained the African cup it last won in 2000 and because of that, also qualified for the World Championship along with Tunisia, Angola and Algeria scheduled to take place in Tunisia in January 2005.

"I'm glad I was the one to bring it back," Lomeil added. "The future will see more concentration on both the Olympic Games in August then the World Championship in January."

Lomeil was also happy with the spectators. "All these celebrations are for the team, trainers and players," he said after the game. This is the best moment in my life. We are a strong team and we have spirit and we can continue and maintain our success if the team remains with this line-up and spirit. We will do a lot of things together."

More than 20,000 spectators attended the final at Cairo Stadium's indoor hall, a welcome difference from the surprisingly low turnout in earlier matches, including the penultimates. The first and second rounds saw no more than 1,000 people in attendance. So dire was the situation that the organisers were forced to fill the stands with policemen. But 10,000 watched Egypt in the semi-final against Algeria.

President of both the international and Egyptian federations Hassan Mustafa described the decline in attendance as "the only black spot in the tournament". Mustafa added he was happy with the win. "It's not only the result that matters, but winning a new team which has proved capable of bringing back Egypt's glory days."

Egypt had downed the Algerians 31-24 in the semi-final while Tunisia found the going rough to get by newcomers Angola, eventually pulling out a 39-35 win in the other semi.

Since the founding of the African championship in 1974, North African countries Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco have dominated African handball. Southern African teams Angola, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Congo were tops in the women's competition.

The women's situation has remained unchanged but the status quo has begun to shift in the men's game.

The Angolans were the biggest surprise of the Cairo tournament reaching the semi-final for the first time and qualifying for the World Championship, again a precedent. The Angolans stunned Algeria 31-30 in the play-off for third place, stepping onto the medals podium for the first time in its history.

The Angolans have at least for now replaced Morocco which will be absent for the first time from the World Championship.

Six-time winners Algeria and runners-up in the last two African championships, placed fourth.

Tunisia's Wessam Hammam and Egypt's Sherif Mo'men were the tournament's top scorers. The all-star team saw three Egyptian players picked among the seven-man team: Algeria's Belqassem Falali was named the best wing left, Tunisia's Essam Kash as the best pivot, Egypt's captain Mo'men as the best wing right, Egypt's Ahmed El- Ahmar as the best back. Angola had the best back left, Tunisia's Walid Bin Amour was the best playmaker and Egypt's Hammada El-Roubi top goalkeeper.

In the women's game, defending champions and six-time winners Angola beat Cameroon in the final 30-20. The Cameroonians, who had beaten Ivory Coast 27-25 in the semi-final, will be making their first World Championship appearance.

The Ivory Coast beat Tunisia 26-22 in the play-off for third place. Places from fifth to eighth went to Congo, Egypt, Congo DR and Tanzania respectively.

Egypt's Ihsan Abdel-Malek was named the tournament's top scorer as well as the best wing left. Cameroon's goalie was selected the best at her position.

The World Women's Championship will be held in Russia in December 2005.

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