Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1260, (27 August - 2 September 2015 )

Ahram Weekly

Rewarded with an Olympics

Following their recent performance in the World Cup, the junior handball squad will represent Egypt in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Mohamed Abdel-Razek reports

Al-Ahram Weekly

After showing off their skills in the junior World Cup in Brazil last month, the national handball team, coached by Wael Abdel-Atti, has been given a new mission by the Egyptian Handball Federation (EHF): the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But, will the EHF give Abdel-Atti and his team the help they need to do well?

Getting used to popular strategies is not always the safest way to manage an institute. That’s exactly what happened with EHF officials as they stumbled into some sort of out of the box achievement that forced them to change the rules of the game. In this situation, the EHF had two main spark-plugs for success: a mastermind-like coach in Abdel-Atti with his wild spirit, and a bunch of players who did not accept the word ‘impossible’, a raw blend that forced the EHF to take the junior squad seriously.

In most national team sports, the junior teams usually rap-up their activities after they are finished with the world championship of their age. They then start entering the national pool to be selected for the senior national team of their country. The EHF had the plan ready for Abdel-Atti’s team even before travelling to Brazil.

According to team player Mohamed Hazem Al-Amin, the EHF had pre-booked a return flight for the team at the end of the group stage round, expecting them to be knocked out early in the competition. They simply had no faith in the team.

Surprisingly though, the EHF found their junior team, mostly aged 21, crawling up the standings in the world championship, stepping over the world’s best nations in the game like South Korea, hosts Brazil, and Sweden until they managed to capture fourth place for the first time since 2011, after losing to Germany by only a one point margin.

“Our great achievement forced everyone to respect us internationally and even at home,” Abdel-Atti said in an exclusive interview with Al-Ahram Weekly. Getting praised and admiration from coaches and observers was routine for Abdel-Atti and his team throughout the tournament. Coaches of the mightiest teams struggled to solve the complicated equation drawn up by the Egyptians, wondering how they managed to fine tune the game to match their pace, change their defensive formations multiple times during games, and come back any time they wanted, even in the dying seconds, like in the matches against Brazil and Sweden.

Not a lot of people knew that Abdel-Atti’s team only had three friendly matches to prepare for the world championship. “We lacked preparation for this competition, playing only three friendly matches in Serbia,” Abdel-Atti said. Trying to make up for the disadvantage, Egypt’s coach started charging his team aggressively, convincing them that they had massive abilities that would allow them to do whatever they want in the tournament. Tactically, Abdel-Atti decided to use out of the ordinary formations in all the fixtures, and his players responded perfectly. It was a recipe that appeared to provide enough fuel for the Egyptian juniors to reach the semi-finals and finish fourth. It seems that Abdel-Atti’s lucky number is now four when he managed to finish in fourth place in the senior world championship in France in 2001 as a player.

“My dream is to get as close as I can to lifting the World Cup and winning the Olympic gold medal as a coach with the Egyptian team,” said Abdel-Atti.

For now, Abdel-Atti stressed that the EHF started sharing with him the dream after they saw the team’s potential. Regarding the road to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Abdel-Atti added that without good preparation in world class camps, his team will not get the right level of experience that would allow them to reach the upper stages.

 The coach revealed his plans for the upcoming three years ensuring that he will add exceptional players from the younger age brackets to strengthen his squad.

Frequently and especially in Egypt, all the blame falls on the coach of any sport if his team falls, and he gets much of the credit if they win. But few ask about the challenges the team faced along the way.

In the same context, the juniors are now the future of Egyptian handball. They have proven their worth and that they are worth the effort. Breakthroughs usually come only once every now and then unless teams rely on professional planning and support to reach their goals.

“As a handball coach I will work hard in the next few years to raise Egypt’s flag at the highest levels worldwide, but without the EHF’s support, the challenges will be difficult”, Abdel-Atti predicted.

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