The draw that will pit the teams of the Men’s Handball World Championship in their respective groups in Egypt will take place on 5 September at the new Museum of Civilisation in Cairo.
According to head of the organising committee Hussein Labib, the 27th edition of the championship will see new changes to the system in terms of the number of teams and its format.
To give more teams the opportunity to compete at the international level for this prestigious trophy, the International Handball Federation (IHF) decided to increase the number of participating teams to 32, up from 24, the most in the tournament’s history.
The previous edition was jointly organised by Germany and Denmark. The next edition in 2023 will also see 32 teams hosted by three countries.
Egypt 2021 will be held from 13-31 January. Matches will take place in and around Cairo, as well as the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria. For the venues, Egypt selected the Cairo Stadium Sports Hall, the New Capital Sports Hall, the Borg Al-Arab Alexandria Sports Hall and the 6th of October Giza Sports Hall.
This will be Egypt’s second time hosting the Handball World Championship, having previously hosted the 16th edition in 1999 when Egypt finished seventh. In 1993, Egypt hosted the Juniors World Championships in Cairo and won the title for the first time in its history.
For the right to host the 2021 tournament, Egypt beat out powerhouses France, Hungary, Sweden, Switzerland, Slovakia and Poland.
In mid-April 2015, only Egypt, Hungary and Poland submitted formal bids. Egypt was chosen as host in November 2015 during an IHF meeting in the Russian city of Sochi.
Thanks to the participation of 32 teams, the competition will enjoy a brand new format. Teams will be divided into eight groups of four, and after a single round league, the top three teams in each group will qualify for the main round. In the main round, 24 teams will then be divided into four groups of six, and after another single round league, the top two teams from each group will advance to the quarter-finals, where the competition would move to the knock-out stage until the final.
As of July 2020, 30 teams booked their places in the championship. The two remaining countries are yet to be decided after the IHF agreed to delay qualifications due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hosts Egypt booked their place automatically as hosts, along with title-holders Denmark. Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay secured their seats after topping the South and Central American Championship on 25 January 2020.
Tunisia, Algeria, Angola, Cape Verde, Morocco and the Democratic Republic of the Congo also qualified for the world championship that same month at the 2020 CAHB African Handball Championship which Egypt won in Tunisia earlier this year.
Three European teams made it to the finals: Spain, which won the European Handball Federation EHF EURO 2020, topping Croatia in second and Norway in third.
Qatar won the 2020 AHF Asian Championship, followed by the Republic of Korea, Japan and Bahrain, which sealed their qualifications on 27 January.
As a result of the pandemic, which broke out in mid-March, the EHF decided to cancel the World Championship qualifiers which were scheduled to take place on 24 April and instead fill its remaining 10 berths with the teams finishing between fourth and 14th in the EHF EURO 2020, after removing Denmark which qualified.
Therefore, Slovenia, Germany, Portugal, Sweden, Austria, Hungary, Belarus, Iceland, the Czech Republic and France made it to Egypt 2021.
Poland and Russia clinched the two wild cards available for the 2021 IHF Men’s World Championship in Egypt, as awarded by the IHF Council upon the recommendation of the IHF Executive Committee.
One wild card is awarded for IHF senior events in accordance with the regulations for IHF competitions. No representative from Oceania ranked fifth or higher at the Asian qualification. The spot was to be awarded as a free wild card in accordance with Article 2.3 of the regulations for IHF competitions.
The IHF received several wild card requests from federations. The decision-making process for selecting the two lucky teams took into account several factors which included the general development of handball in the country concerned; the effects such a wild card would have on global handball development and strengthening the IHF flagship events, as well as economic factors, especially during Covid-19.
Taking all this into account, it was decided by the IHF Council that Poland and Russia would nab the wild card slots, and make the trip to Egypt in January 2021.
A Last Chance Tournament for South America and Central America is scheduled for San Salvador, El Salvador, from 19 to 25 October from which one more team for Egypt 2021 will qualify. The winning team will join Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay.
The 2020 North American and Caribbean Championship in Mexico will also fill one more berth in Egypt 2021, but the timing has yet to be decided.
Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi deems this major event, which is coming to Egypt for the third time in its history, a top priority. During the past months, amid the coronavirus pandemic, Sobhi has been personally following up the build-up for the big tournament. He joined both IHF President Hassan Mustafa and Hisham Nasr, the Egyptian Federation president on several tours to check on the latest preparations in order to meet deadlines.
Last year, Egypt looked like it was regaining its handball glory days when it was seeded sixth in the world. The Under-19 team won the World Youth Championship while the U-21 took the World Juniors Championship bronze medal. The senior team managed to claim eighth place at the Men’s World Championship.
They reached their peak when they placed fourth at the World Championships in France in 2001.
This year, the Pharaohs produced a string of fine displays during the world competition and were close to securing a place in the 2020 Olympic Games before losing to Spain 36-31 in their seventh-place playoff in the World Championship, held in Denmark. That eight-place finish meant they missed automatic qualification to the Olympic Games.
Still, progress was made by the seniors as they jumped five places. The top seven teams at the World Championship earn seats at the Olympics. However, winning the 2020 African Championship in Tunisia saw them secure the Olympic Games berth in Tokyo.
In July, Egypt clinched the bronze medal in the U-21 World Championship in Spain after thrashing Portugal 37-27 in the third place playoff. Egypt started the competition in style, having won all their games in the group stage. They defeated Serbia 30-29 in the round of 16 before beating Norway 29-27 in the quarters.
But the Pharaohs’ winning streak in the tournament ended in the semi-finals when they slumped to 35-33 loss to France which went on to win the world title.
Two weeks later, the Egyptian handball saw its biggest achievement since 1993 when the U-19 team won the World Championship after defeating Germany 32-28 in the final in Macedonia. The Pharaohs’ coach Magdi Abul-Magd, who was a member of Egypt’s U-21 team that won the world title in 1993, guided his team to the U-19 World Championship title.
It was the first time Egypt won the U-19 World Championship and the first time a non-European team was crowned world champions since its creation in 2005. Ahmed Hisham was named the tournament’s best player after producing impressive displays while teammate Hassan Walid Ahmed won the top scorer award with 51 goals.
Egyptian handball might be the second most popular sport in Egypt after football but it is the most successful team sport in the country. They proved it recently. In 2021, they are determined to confirm it.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 13 August, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly