The 32-nation 27th Men’s Handball World Championship, being held in Egypt from 13 to 31 January, entered its second round, the main draw, with no major upsets.
The preliminary round concluded on Tuesday with the top three teams in each of the eight groups qualifying for the main round, after Al-Ahram Weekly went to press.
The whittled down 24 teams are now divided into four groups of six teams each. Each group in the main round comprises the qualifiers from two preliminary groups. Accordingly, Group 1 includes the qualifying teams from Groups A and B, Group 2 will comprise the teams qualifying from Groups C and D, Group 3 will feature the qualifying teams from Groups E and F, and Group 4 will see the qualifying teams from Groups G and H.
According to the championship’s new format, each team will play three matches against teams they haven’t met before in the competition. The top two teams of each of the four groups of the main round then qualify for the knock-out stage which starts with the quarter-finals on 27 January, then continues with the semi-finals on 29 January. On the final day, 31 January, the match for third place and the gold medal match are to be played.
Egypt was placed in Group 4 together with Sweden, Russia, Slovenia, Belarus and Macedonia. Group 4 in the main round was confirmed after Groups G and H finished their third round of their preliminary matches on Monday night.
Sweden, Egypt and North Macedonia qualified as first, second and third respectively from Group G, while the Russian Handball Federation, Slovenia and Belarus qualified from Group H. Sweden topped Group 4 on four points, followed by the RHF on three points with Egypt in third level with Slovenia on two points each with Northern Macedonia bottom on zero points.
Despite leading most of the time, host nation Egypt suffered its first loss against the four-time world champions Sweden in a hard-fought and extremely close match, with a score of 24-23 to help the Scandinavian side top Group G at the end of the preliminary round.
The first period ended with Egypt in the lead 12-9, as Mohamed Sanad scored five goals to set the pace for the Egyptians going into the second period, which saw more of the same. But at one point Egypt spent an entire minute having to cope with two simultaneous suspensions, with the lead changing hands midway through the period, as the former champions seized the momentum to leave Cairo Stadium Sports Hall with the two points.
Thanks to Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Palicka’s racking up a number of saves, the Swedes clinched the win. Nevertheless, Sanad was named the player of the match, scoring eight goals. The result saw Sweden top Group G, with Egypt in second place as both teams as well as North Macedonia will face the Russian Handball Federation, Belarus and Slovenia in the main round.
The Pharaohs’ group four teams were scheduled to play on Wednesday at Cairo Stadium Indoor Complex, with North Macedonia facing Slovenia, the Russian Handball Federation against Egypt and Sweden versus Belarus.
Group 3, which included France, Switzerland, Iceland, Algeria, Portugal and Norway were also scheduled to play on Wednesday with Switzerland taking on Iceland, France meeting Algeria and Portugal facing Norway. All three matches were scheduled to be held at the Hassan Mustafa Sports Hall in 6 of October City.
France snatched a precious 25-24 victory from Switzerland in Group E.
The first period ended 14-14 before ‘Les Bleus’ claimed the victory.
With this result the French team led Group E with six points after winning all their matches, whereas the Swiss remained at two points.
The Player of the Match Award went to the Swiss player Andre Schmidt after a brilliant performance that saw him score eight goals.
Group E comprised France, Austria, Switzerland and Norway.
Slovenia defeated Belarus 29-25 in the third round of Group H games at Borg Al-Arab Sports Hall in Alexandria on Monday. Slovenia and Belarus finished the first period 15-15 in a tense 30 minutes that saw lots of action.
The Slovenian team continued putting on a superb show in the second period to beat Uruguay 29-25.
Having already qualified for the main round, Slovenia took the runners-up place in Group H with four points after playing three games in the preliminary round.
Slovenia started by defeating the Republic of Korea before losing to the Russian Handball Federation. Slovenia’s right-back Jure Dolenec claimed the Player of the Match Award after scoring seven goals from 12 attempts.
Slovenia joined the Russian Handball Federation, Belarus, Egypt, Sweden and North Macedonia in the main round.
Portugal defeated Algeria in the last match in the group stage in Group 4, 26-19. With this win, the Portuguese won their third game in a row to record their best-ever men’s world championship start.
The first half saw Algeria trying to get close, but Portugal managed to edge them in the first 30 minutes 14-9.
In the second half, the Portuguese dominated. Throughout the match, both the Algerian Hesham Kabesh and the Portuguese Alex Borges received automatic red cards for their aggressiveness after the referee checked with the VAR. Algerian Masoud Barkous was selected man of the match after scoring seven goals.
After securing their second win in a row, 31-23 against Morocco, Iceland advanced from the preliminary round for the seventh time in a row at an IHF Men’s World Championship. Portugal took Group F with six points, while Iceland finished second on four points. Algeria’s win against Morocco in the first game of the group was enough to earn them safe passage to the next phase.
The eight teams who were placed fourth in their eight preliminary groups started playing in the President’s Cup on Wednesday in a classification tournament that will determine places from 25 to 32, with Chile playing against the Republic of Korea and Austria facing Morocco.
The President’s Cup will feature two groups of four teams each. Each team will play three games against the other teams in their group. According to their results and points collected, the play-offs for the places from 25 to 32 will be determined. As scheduled, the top two teams of each of those two groups will play-off for the 25 and 26 places, the second-placed are to play-off for the 27-28 places, third placed team are to play for the 29-30 places and the fourth placed teams are to play for the 31-32 places.
Despite all the health measures taken by the event’s organisers, some players contracted Covid-19. Before their match versus Germany, Cape Verde had to officially inform the IHF of its withdrawal from the match and the event altogether. Its match against Germany was thus cancelled and the IHF released the following statement on its official website: “Following the challenges, the Cape Verdean delegation faces at the 27th IHF Men’s World Championship, which already led to the cancellation of the match Cape Verde versus Germany, Cape Verde officially informed the International Handball Federation that it withdraws from the event. The IHF has accepted its withdrawal, which safeguards the health of all stakeholders involved in the World Championship.
“In accordance with Article F 7. c of the Egypt 2021 Covid-19-related regulations, each team needs to have a minimum of 10 players including one goalkeeper. As Cape Verde still faces difficulties fielding at least 10 players to be able to compete according to the regulations, it decided to withdraw. Its matches will be counted as 10-0 forfeit victories for its opponents in the last preliminary round game and the President’s Cup, with the opponents claiming two points.
“The necessary arrangements will now be taken for the team to return to Cape Verde which confirmed its willingness to work hard to make sure to qualify for the 28th IHF Men’s World Championship to be co-hosted by Sweden and Poland in 2023,” the IHF statement concluded.
The 27th edition of the World Championship in Egypt is being held under exceptional circumstances with no spectators or media attending. Only participating teams, IHF and organising officials, volunteers, some journalists and other participants within ‘the Bubble Concept’, which is being applied under strict precautionary measures, can attend to protect those involved in the competition from the coronavirus.
The championship is being played in four venues in three cities: Cairo Stadium Indoor Complex and the New Capital City Hall in Cairo, the Hassan Mustafa Indoor Sports Complex Hall in 6 of October and Borg Al- Arab Hall in Alexandria.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 January, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.