Friday,26 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1428, (31 January - 6 February 2019)
Friday,26 April, 2019
Issue 1428, (31 January - 6 February 2019)

Ahram Weekly

Going up

Despite Egypt’s eighth-place finish at the World Handball Championship, it is the country’s best performance in almost two decades, reports Inas Mazhar


Spain versus Egypt
Spain versus Egypt

Egypt’s handball team made it to the world’s top eight at the 26th IHF Men’s World Championship which ended on Sunday in Herning, Denmark.
It was the country’s best finish since 2001 when they finished fourth.

The Danes, who organised this edition of the World Championship along with Germany, were winners of the trophy for the first time in their handball history, beating fellow Scandinavians Norway 31-22. Playing in front of a full house in Herning, the hosts dominated as they took an 18-11 lead at half time.

It was a long awaited and sweet victory for Denmark who have made it to the World Championship final three times, but never took the crown home. In two of those finals, it played with several of the players in the current line-up. The biggest stars, such as goalkeeper Niklas Landin, left back Mikkel Hansen and centre back Rasmus Lauge, were all on court when Denmark lost the 2011 final to France in extra time. They experienced the disappointment again in 2013, when Spain took a dominant 30-24 victory at home in Barcelona.

Norway reached the World Championship trophy match for the first time in 2017. Though they claimed what was their first ever medal at a major international event on that occasion, the team were disappointed to walk away without the gold.

France secured the bronze medal following a thrilling 60 minutes during which nothing could separate them from Germany. The 3/4 play-off looked set to proceed into extra time when Germany goalkeeper Silvio Heinevetter saved what could have been France’s last attack, but the record world champions regained possession with seconds to spare. It was three-time World Handball Player of the Year Nikola Karabatic who had the final say, hitting the net exactly one second before the buzzer sounded.

It has been almost 20 years since Egypt were in the world’s top six in handball. In Denmark they could have finished seventh – earning an automatic spot in the Tokyo Olympics – but lost to Spain 36-31 in the play-off match for seventh place.

In the placement match, Egypt led at the break, but Spain came back in the second half strongly to seal their seventh place and a direct spot at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Games as all top seven teams have now booked their seats. Ten minutes into the match, both teams exchanged the lead five times as the pressure of sealing a spot at the Olympics was intense on court.

Egypt, however, will have another shot at the Olympics as they go through the continent’s Olympic qualifying tournament scheduled to be held in Egypt later this year.

Neither Egypt nor Spain could get in their rhythm until Jordi Ribera’s Spain – down to 15 squad players after Daniel Dujshebaev was ruled out with an ACL injury – finally settled, going on a three-goal run to lead 7-5 in the 11th minute. Five minutes later, a turning point appeared to present itself to his side when Ibrahim Al-Masri was shown a direct red card after the video proof system had been used to confirm a hand to the face on Gedeon Guardiola.

But despite being a player down, and then two shortly after, following an Ali Zein suspension, Egypt kept in touch, levelling the score at 14-14 and then turned it around as goalkeeper Karim Hendawi made four saves in a row with Spain losing concentration again, unable to pick up a loose ball on the edge of their area three times in a row, leading to a superb spinning assist to Mohamed Shebib, who found space in behind the Spanish defence to make it 16-14. It was Egypt’s first two-goal lead.

Just before the break, a deflected Yehia Al-Deraa shot made it 18-17 to the North Africans, but it should have been two. As the teams came out for the second period fans inside the Jyske Bank Boxen were expecting a similar second half to the first, but unfortunately for the small band of fans supporting the Egyptians, Spain went on a 7-1 tear in the opening 10 minutes to get a clear lead they would not surrender again, going seven-clear (35-28) with five minutes to go for the match.

Spain’s coach Ribera was glad with his team’s performance and result. “I congratulate my team because even though they had victories and losses, they have been fighting in every game. The first half was really competitive with a few mistakes for both teams because of the importance of the game. In the second half we had one partial 7-1 scoring run and this was key to the win; this calmed us and controlled the game. We are happy to get the last place for the Olympics. Now we can relax and start working and preparing our next activities for the future,” Ribera told the media after the match.

Egypt’s Spanish head coach David Davis said he was both satisfied and proud of his team. “I cannot say how happy I am with them during the tournament. We did not win against the best teams, but we showed we can compete against them. For me this tournament was excellent. It was my first championship and we are building this project, so far so good. It is a present to be here. Everybody enjoyed it and everybody has had minutes on court as we build for 2021.”

Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi and Egyptian Handball Federation President Hisham Nasr were at the closing ceremony to receive the tournament’s flag as Egypt get ready to host the 2021 edition of the World Championship.

Joan Canellas of Spain said Egypt “had a really good performance. I have to congratulate my friend, coach David Davis. He deserved to be in a world championship, and I wish the best for him in the future. We knew how difficult it would be today because of the seventh place and maybe because of that, we were nervous in the first half. Luckily, in the second half, once we were in front with the scoring, I think everything was a little bit easier, and we were not so nervous. This last game we have to be happy because of the qualification, but maybe the sensations of the team is that we want more.”

Egypt’s Yahia Omar also said they had a great tournament “and I want to thank the coach and staff. We have worked very hard to get into the top eight in the world again, our best in the last 18 years. The new Egyptian handball board has done a lot of great things for the team and I hope we will be ready for the 2020 Olympic Games and the next World Championship in 2021.”

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