Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1259, (20 - 26 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Russian exit

Egypt’s U-19 handball team is out of the world championship. Mohamed Abdel-Razek reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

Despite a good performance, lack of experience forced Egypt’s handball youth team to play for the 15-16 place after losing against Sweden in round 16 of the 2015 Under-19 Youth World Championship in Russia.

After a shocking 30-23 loss to Spain in the opening game of the group stage, the youthful Pharaohs had to put things together early in the tournament before it was too late. However, it took the Egyptians three losses -- against Spain, Norway, and Iceland -- before realising they had to win. Eventually the Pharaohs managed to beat the mighty German machine and the friendly Venezuelans to bump into the dead end in round 16 against Sweden.    

The matches against the European teams showed the huge gap in experience between the European players who play for the continent’s finest clubs and Egyptian youths who play in local competitions and rarely go out for international camps.

Egyptian coach Assam Hammad expected things to get better for his team in the second match against Norway. “Our team is very talented and my lads are full of flaming spirit,” said Hammad, adding that he fully understood the fact that his players lack international experience. But on the other hand he said he was quite sure there were other factors that could overcome the disadvantage.

Egypt went in against Norway hoping for a better performance. The Egyptian team showed fast moves throughout the game, while Hammad kept standing and barking orders for the whole 60 minutes. Unfortunately, it was not enough for a win; only a tight 24-21 loss.

Still, everyone in the tournament saw how gradually the Pharaohs were improving match after the other, proving that experience is the only remaining barrier keeping them from their first win. With three matches remaining in the group stage against Iceland, Venezuela, and Germany, the Egyptians definitely needed something special to finish the group stage in fourth place and make it to the playoffs.

The Pharaohs went into the third fixture against Iceland, the group leaders. The Egyptian team appeared solid as the Icelanders underestimated them. Even with Iceland finishing the first half with a lead of six goals, and even increasing the gap by the start of the second half, Egypt was close to tying the score before going down 31-29.

Facing Venezuela, the weakest team in the group, was the first good news for the Egyptian camp since the start of the tournament. They captured their first win, a whopping 51-28 after a solid performance from all the players. But the South Americans did score 28 times, their best effort since the start of the tournament. The Egyptian performance, along with the two points gained from this fixture, were definitely the comeback Egypt needed to start regaining their lost confidence and build up pace.

Dreaming to get the two points needed to qualify for round 16, the Pharaohs went in to face the Germans, who had four points from the past four games and needed only one point to secure their qualification to the playoffs. Witnessed by the president of the International Handball Federation (IHF), the Egyptian Hassan Mustafa, the battle was on. The Egyptian team was on fire from the start, leading 11-7. The Pharaohs kept the lead until the end even though Germany was close to tying. But Nour Khaled gave Egypt the lead before both teams started to defend their lines fiercely in the last minutes of the game.

A very brave decision came in the last minutes from the German coach to break the Egyptian defence, substituting his goalkeeper for a seventh field player. The decision went well for the German team giving them the score they wanted. At 23-23 the Germans conformably started thinking of the round 16 fixture, but dramatically, in the last three seconds Shadi Mahmoud Khalil managed to score a magnificent goal from the centre of the court to grant Egypt a round 16 shot.

Facing one of the championship favourites Sweden, Egypt had the least chances to go on to the quarter-final. The young Pharaohs went toe to toe managing a 9-9 tie near the end of the first half. But Swedish youngster Blitz lived up to his name, scoring three goals in the last six minutes for Sweden to come out the first half leading 13-10.

The Pharaohs failed to get a grip on the game from the start of the second half, with minutes of suspension and minutes of nervousness. The Swedes led 24-13 but just as they started feeling it was over, the Pharaohs managed to come back with seven straight goals. Unfortunately it was too late for the comeback, with Sweden winning 31-26, leaving Egypt to fight for 15th place.

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