Carlos and U17 handball junior team
The Spaniards are the defending champions and had delivered an excellent game against Egypt in the final in January, taking a clear win. But the Pharaohs took them by surprise to beat them 24-22 in their first match of the one-week event, currently being held in Hammamet, Tunisia, between 23 and 30 April, with 14 teams fighting to try and secure the title.
Strangely, the Egyptians played two matches on Monday. After beating Spain in the morning in the first round, they were defeated 28-21 in the second round by Croatia in the evening of the same day.
No explanation for the two-in-one matches has been forthcoming from the Egyptian Handball Federation (EHF) but it might have something to do with shorter games being played.
Contrary to the traditional two periods of 30 minutes each in handball matches, in this tournament, the International Handball Federation (IHF) opted that each match will be divided into three periods, with each period having 15 minutes. In each period, the team which scores the most number of goals receives one point. In case of a draw in a period, each team receives 0.5 points. At the end of the game, the winner — the team which has the most points — is awarded two points in the group ranking.
The 19th edition of the U-17 MHC Championship also sees an increase in the number of participating teams. The previous edition had nine teams, however, in the 2023 edition, the IHF added five more teams, making the competition more challenging.
Teams from three continents are now fighting to secure the tournament’s big prize, with Africa, Asia and Europe represented. The majority of the contingent comes from Europe, with eight sides signing up for the challenge: Croatia, France, Greece, Italy, Montenegro, Romania, Spain and Turkey. Four African sides — Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and hosts Tunisia — and two Asian countries — Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — complete the card.
The 14 countries are divided into two groups of seven teams each, after a draw that took place in Hammamet on 22 April, with the top two sides in each group progressing to the semi-finals.
On the other hand, earlier this week the EHF announced the appointment of Spanish coach Juan Carlos Pastor to replace his countryman Roberto Parrondo as head coach of the Pharaohs.
According to EHF Secretary-General Amr Salah, Pastor signed a one-year contract with the federation, expiring after the Paris 2024 Summer Olympic Games.
“Our target in signing Pastor is to win a medal in the 2024 Olympic Games,” Salah said in a statement.
Parrondo guided Egypt to a seventh-place finish at the World Championship for the second time in a row. He had been leading the team since 2019 but the EHF and Parrondo parted ways after the Spaniard refused to stop coaching a German team together with the Pharaohs.
Following his departure, the EHF had been on the hunt for a full-time European coach with what was stated as a high profile. After a thorough search, the CV of veteran coach Pastor popped up.
The 54-year-old handball tactician led Spain from 2004 to 2008 during which he took them to the 2005 World Championship title in Tunisia.
Pastor also won two continental and Olympic medals with his national team, winning the silver medal at Euro 2006 and the bronze medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 27 April, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly