Saturday,21 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Saturday,21 July, 2018
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Hands clash

Egypt starts its campaign to go to the Olympic Games, taking on Algeria today in the opening of the 22nd Handball Africa Cup of Nations, reports Inas Mazhar

Al-Ahram Weekly

Only the eventual winner of the Africa Cup of Nations qualifies for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this summer since Africa has only one representative. The top three winners who will make it to the podium will, on the other hand, qualify for the World Handball Championships in France in 2017. This means that the team which will be crowned in 10 days will have claimed a double victory by qualifying for two of the sport’s most prestigious events.

The official opening ceremony and the first match will take place at Cairo Stadium’s indoor complex in the evening. However, five other matches would have been played early this morning. In Group A, Angola will take on Kenya while Tunisia faces Libya in the main hall. Group B matches will be held at Hall 2 and will see Cameroun meeting Nigeria, Congo facing DR Congo and Gabon clashing with Morocco.

Twelve countries are taking part in the 10-day event which ends on 30 January. They were divided into two groups of six teams each. Group A includes Egypt, Algeria, Cameroun, Nigeria, Gabon and Morocco while Group B comprises Tunisia, Angola, Libya, Congo Brazzaville, Congo DR and Kenya which was the last county of confirm its participation.

In preparation for the event, the Egyptian national team, among the top 10 in the world in the nineties and early 2000s, underwent an intensive training camp in the coastal city of Ismailia after taking part in an international handball competition hosted here in Cairo.

Head coach Marawan Ragab said the team was fully prepared and is looking ahead to the opening match against Algeria. Ragab is a former national team pivot in the golden era of Egyptian handball and who helped Egypt finish in fourth place in the World Championships in 2001 and sixth at the Olympic Games in 1996. However, the coach admitted that the Algeria game was the toughest of the group.

“This is the most important and most difficult match in the tournament as it has always been when meeting Algeria or Tunisia, the top two teams in African handball. It is always a big fight and only the best team wins that match. A victory is very much needed as it will boost the confidence of the players and push them forward,” said Ragab, who actually selected the group Egypt joined in an unusual championship format.

“Beating Algeria with an 11-goal margin at the World Championships in Qatar a year ago is not an indication that we are better or a guarantee for a win. Each match and tournament has its different situation and circumstances,” he added.

The handball team is eager to emulate the volleyball squad which is going to the Olympics after it beat Tunisia last week. It will also be a chance for the handball Pharaohs to return to the Olympic arena after missing the Olympic Games in London 2012 after five previous participations starting with 1992 in Barcelona where the team was placed 11, sixth in Atlanta ’96, seventh in Sydney 2000, 12th in Athens 2004 and 10th in Beijing 2008.

The Egyptian team also took part in the World Championships 13 times, making their first appearance at the 1964 edition. But it was not until the mid-nineties when the Egyptians cruised into the top 10 to join the world’s elite of the sport. In 2001, the pharaohs reached a career high of fourth at the World Championships in France but the nosedive started at the 2003 Portugal event. The current management that was elected a decade later has managed in the past four years to build a new team and improve the level of Egyptian handball on both the world and African levels and in all categories: juniors, youth and senior teams, men and women.

Though Egypt is considered one of the leading teams in Africa, the continental history of African handball also highlights the Tunisian squad which has dominated the sport for years. The North African team leads the participating countries in being the most winning team of the Africa Cup of Nations. The Carthage Eagles won the title nine times. Algeria follows with seven titles and Egypt comes third with five crowns in hand.

The inaugural edition of the Handball Africa Cup of Nations was held in 1974 in Tunisia which won the tournament.

Egypt won the African title five times, was runner up six times and placed third six times which makes the total medals won 17 from participating in all 21 editions. Egypt has appeared on the podium in every edition save four.

The championship’s format was different from the system applied nowadays and throughout the years the system changed according to each event. Sometimes teams competed in two, three or four groups. In 2012, a new system that divided the participating teams into two groups of six teams each was applied. In the first round they played a one-round robin. Accordingly, four teams from each group qualified to the quarter-finals and played a knock-out system from which the winners made it to the semi-finals. This is the same system which will be implemented at the 2016 Handball Africa Cup of Nations.

The Egyptian Handball Federation has announced the squad: Marawan Ragab (head coach), Khaled Bondok (assistant coach), Omar Shawki (administrative manager), Hamada Al-Nakib (goalkeeper coach), Mohamed Emam (analyst), Essam Fathi (fitness coach), Karim Mohamed (doctor).

Players: Karim Hendawi, Hadi Refaat, Mahmoud Khalil (felfel), Mohamed Ali, Mustafa Tamer, Ahmed Alaa Al-Sayed, Hossam Khedr, Ali Zein, Ali Hisham, Mohamed Abou Al-Seoud, Mohamed Alaa Al-Sayed, Mohab Hossam, Islam Hassan, Mustafa Khalil, Mamdouh Taha, Ahmed Al-Ahmar, Mohamed Abdel-Rahman, Mustafa Ossama, Mohamed Sanad, Ibrahim Al-Masri, Mohamed Ibrahim, Mohamed Mamdouh Hashem, Wessam Sami Nawar.

The participating teams will be battling out at Cairo Stadium’s indoor complex, the same venue that has hosted world, international and continental championships in all sports, including handball. It is the same venue that set a world record for the highest spectator attendance in a handball match. In 1993, the indoor main hall of Cairo Stadium saw more than 30,000 spectators at the final of the World Youth Championships, a record that has created a legacy for Egyptian fans and which has never been broken.

The organising committee of the 2016 Handball Africa Cup of Nations headed by Khaled Hammouda, the president of the Egyptian Handball Federation, is looking to break its own record. Online sales of tickets were launched at the beginning of this month.

Matches will be held at both the main and middle halls of the Cairo Stadium indoor complex. Both halls have undergone a complete makeover according to international standards set by the International Handball Federation.

This year’s 22nd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations is of great significance to the sports family since it is the first championship to be held under the auspices of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi. It was reported that Al-Sisi might attend the opening ceremony.

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