Denmark was crowned champions of the Egypt 2021 Men’s Handball World Championship for the second year in a row.
It was painful for Egyptians and their national team to watch the Danes as they received their trophy and gold medals from Egyptian Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli at the Cairo Stadium Indoor Complex. The locals came close to beating the world champions in the quarter-finals forcing them to play extra time and eventually penalties. It also did not help that Egypt was forced to host the spectacle behind closed doors because of the coronavirus.
However, Egyptians gained a lot from the tournament which was praised for its organisation by International Handball Federation President Hassan Mustafa, International Olympic Committee Head Thomas Bach and the participating teams. Hosting a record 32 teams alone was an achievement in itself. The 2019 edition saw Denmark and Germany co-host 24 teams. The 2023 edition will see Sweden and Poland co-host 32 teams. Egypt had the courage to embrace 32 teams by itself -- and amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The two-week event, which was held in four venues in three cities, had 108 matches and scored 5,863 goals.
The refurbishing of the Cairo Complex and the building from scratch of three other handball sites was a huge undertaking which cost the government around LE3 billion.
The final match was a breath-taking battle as the reigning champions beat neighbours Sweden 26-24 to claim the title for the second time in a row. It was a special night for Denmark, becoming only the second team after France to defend the title in the last 47 years.
The win against Sweden was also Denmark’s 19th straight in the competition, breaking France’s record of 18 wins in a row, set between Qatar 2015 and Germany/Denmark 2019. This Danish side will thus be remembered in history as one of the most dominant in the sport, winning two titles in a row without even conceding a draw. The young Swedish side will have to wait at least two years for another gold medal chance – then on home soil, as they will co-host the 28th IHF Men’s World Championship with Poland.
Denmark had it all: one of the best attacks of all time, scoring at a rate of 35.25 goals per game, and the experience of winning the trophy two years ago, bringing back 11 players from their 2019 squad.
However, Sweden did not make it easy for Denmark. The team nobody expected to deliver such a compelling performance at Egypt 2021, were on par with the world champions, who were a step away from creating history: the biggest-ever winning streak in the history of the competition, with 19 games.
The bronze medal went to Spain who beat France 35-29 in the play-off for third and fourth place. After seven consecutive wins to start Egypt 2021, France lost its last two games to finish fourth, its worst placement since Spain 2013, when it ended seventh.
This was also the highest-ever scoring bronze medal game in the history of the championship, three goals more than at Germany 2007 when Denmark beat France, 34:27, and at France 2007, when Slovenia won the medal against Croatia 31-30.
With the final match having ended in Denmark lifting the 2021 title, the final 32 team ranking put Egypt in seventh place: Denmark, Sweden, Spain, France, Hungary, Norway, Egypt, Qatar, Slovenia, Portugal, Argentina, Germany, Poland, Russian Handball Federation Team, Croatia, Switzerland, Belarus, Brazil, Japan, Iceland, Bahrain, Algeria, North Macedonia, Uruguay, Tunisia, Austria, Chile, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Morocco, Angola, Korea Republic and Cape Verde.
According to the performance throughout the tournament, the Egypt 2021 All-Star Team was selected from only four national teams:
Most Valuable Player MVP: Mikkel Hansen, Denmark
Left wing: Hampus Wanne, Sweden
Left back: Mikkel Hansen, Denmark
Centre back: Jim Gottfridsson, Sweden
Right back: Mathias Gidsel, Denmark
Right wing: Ferran Sole Sala, Spain
Line player: Ludovic Fabregas, France
Goalkeeper: Andreas Palicka, Sweden
*A version of this article appears in print in the 4 February , 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly