Tuesday,23 October, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1326, (5-11 January 2017)
Tuesday,23 October, 2018
Issue 1326, (5-11 January 2017)

Ahram Weekly

The good old Paris days

Egypt’s national handball team is getting ready for the World Handball Championships in France next week

#Mohamed, Egypt’s key player #Ragab
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The Egyptians seek to recapture their glory days when they dazzled the handball world for a decade starting in the early 1990s.

During that stretch, they shot up to the world’s top 10, reaching a record high of fourth at the World Championships, held in Paris, in 2001. They also finished sixth at the Olympic Games in Atlanta 1996, another country record.

The African champions hope that the World Championships, to be played next week again in Paris, where it all began for them globally, will be the site of their revival.

Since claiming the African title in January 2016 in the qualifying tournament held in Cairo, the Egyptians also earned a ticket to the Rio Olympic Games where they failed to make any meaningful impression, finishing 11th in the overall standings.

However, head coach Marawan Ragab started preparing for the World Championships immediately after the Olympic Games with only one aim: a better performance in France. The team played several friendly tournaments before flying to Paris. They appear more disciplined and more determined in their upcoming campaign.

In France, Ragab, a former national team super pivot and member of the golden team of old, will be depending mainly on his key players Ali Mohamed (left back), Mohamed Al-Bassiouni (centre back) and Ahmed Al-Ahmar (right back).

The Egyptians have made 14 appearances at the World Championship since its creation in 1954. France 2017 will be their 15th appearance. The nineties saw their best performances, two times finishing in sixth place, in 1995 and 1997, a seventh-place finish in 1999 and fourth in 2001. Since 2003 and for the next seven editions until Qatar in 2015, the Egyptians finished between 14th and 17th place.

But this year, the six-time African champions travel to the 25th IHF Men’s Handball World Championship with a reasonably strong year behind them, which began with winning the African Men’s Handball Championship for the first time since 2008.

To win the 2016 African Championship, Egypt progressed through the group phase undefeated, beat Congo in the quarter-final, Angola in the semi-final and Tunisia 21-19 in the trophy match. Tunisia later joined Egypt in Rio 2016, where Egypt once again came out on top in the continental race with a final rank of ninth while Tunisia finished 12th.

Egypt narrowly missed a place in the quarter-finals of the 2016 Olympic Games, recording one win and one draw to finish the preliminary round on three points behind Poland on four and Brazil on five. Group B at Rio 2016 was tightly contested, with three of the six teams’ fates decided only on the final day of preliminary round matches.

“In Paris, our goal is to take a medal. If we make it to the second round, it would just be another game, but if we win, we would at least get to play in the bronze medal match, so why not?” said player Mohamed Ibrahim Ramadan after Egypt shocked London 2012 silver medallists Sweden with a 26-25 win in round two.

As the top-ranked African team in the competition, Egypt experienced more success at the last World Championship in Qatar in 2015, making it to the last eight thanks to strong performances in the group phase, including victories against then African champions Algeria as well as the Czech Republic, and a draw with Sweden. They were knocked out by Germany in the quarter-finals, but had the small consolation of finishing above Qatar.

In 2017 they will contest the preliminary round in Group D based in Paris, coming up against 2015 World Championship silver medallists Qatar and Rio 2016 gold medallists Denmark.

Egypt starts its campaign on Friday 13 January against Qatar in the first game of the group. The African champions will then face the Danes on Saturday 14 January, Bahrain on Monday 16 January, Argentina on Wednesday 18 January and Sweden on Friday 20.

“We are definitely looking forward to this tournament and the team has prepared well for it. It’s true it is a tough group, but we hope we can make it through the group stages. We are better now than at the Olympics. So much work has been done to avoid mistakes,” said Effat Rashad, head of the Egyptian Handball Federation’s technical committee.

“There is no strong or weak team. All are considered tough opponents. We are going to take each match by itself, one at a time.”

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