Egypt, the 2019 reigning champions, lost the bronze medal to hosts Croatia 39-37 at the U-19 Men’s Youth World Championship.
Spain won their first-ever trophy in the competition, defeating Denmark 28-23 in the final.
The young Egyptian handballers had been playing brilliantly since the beginning of the tournament which was held from 2 to 13 August. The Egyptians, who four years ago became the first non-European side to clinch the trophy using an outstanding generation of players, had hoped to repeat the feat this year by reaching the semi-finals, but failed in the end to even win the bronze.
Despite losing the world title, Egypt’s Minister of Youth and Sports Ashraf Sobhi praised the team’s efforts. “We are all proud of our U-19 handball national team for their exceptional performance at the World Championship in Croatia during all their games.
“You have created a historic and glorious achievement for Egypt and we await more in the future, to maintain world-class performances and accomplishments,” Sobhi addressed the handballers in a statement.
The statement added that losing the title or the bronze medal “doesn’t undermine the effort you exerted during the competition. You showed strength, fighting spirit and determination.”
At Croatia 2023, Egypt had an impressive journey, starting with a winning streak in the preliminary stage of Group C together with Iceland, Japan and the Czech Republic.
Egypt won their three games in a row, over Japan 40-32, the Czech Republic 28-22 and Iceland 33-30.
In the main draw, Egypt beat Brazil 38-23, then lost to the eventual champion Spain 42-35. In the quarter-finals, Egypt outclassed the Faroe Islands 38-34 to go to the semi-finals and meet Denmark who beat the Pharaohs 39-35 to qualify for the final.
According to the International Handball Federation (IHF), the Croatia- Egypt match was the highest-ever scoring bronze-medal match. Croatia snatched multiple comebacks attempts from Egypt to finish on a high, with a narrow 39-37 win after extra-time.
Croatia had taken the lead in the first half 18-17 and drew with Egypt 30-30 in the second half, taking the game to extra time.
With the bronze medal, Croatia ended their 10-year drought in this age category, making it the fifth medal overall for Croatia at the world handball flagship competition and the first they sealed since Hungary in 2013.
According to IHF, on paper, Egypt had better depth, having dispersed minutes more evenly throughout the game and the competition, but had to dig deep once again, displaying their trademark 3-3 defence, after Croatia opened another three-goal gap (34-31) after some exciting breakthroughs and more saves from Tin Herceg, including a penalty.
Herceg might have finished the game with a 34 per cent saving efficiency. Still, his saves were absolutely paramount in Croatia’s win, as Egypt failed to score more than two goals in the first seven minutes of extra time, while the hosts marched on to the win, clearly being better equipped mentally to secure the bronze medal.
Despite losing their title of the defending champions, Egypt did their utmost to seal another medal, producing one of the finest-ever comebacks in the history of the competition but falling short of reaching their objective. However, this fourth place is still the second-best result in their history in the competition.
Spain clinched their first-ever trophy in the competition with the help of an eight-game winning streak, culminating with a superb 28-23 win in the final against Denmark. Spain are now only the sixth team in history to lift the trophy, after Denmark (three times), France (two times), and Croatia, Egypt and Serbia and Montenegro, one each.
The championship saw 116 games being played and 6,674 goals scored (58 per match).
Following the end of the competition, the IHF revealed the All-Star team for Croatia 2023, with five nations and two continents represented.
While losing the final against Spain, Denmark had the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the competition in their ranks, with centre back Frederik Emil Pedersen taking the plaudits after finishing second in the top goal scorer standings, with 56 goals, while also delivering 22 assists throughout the two weeks of the competition.
Winners Spain had three players in the All-Star team, starting with goalkeeper Alvaro Perez Mendez, who had a superb competition, saving 76 shots – the second highest number – for a 35.3 per cent saving efficiency. Right wing Xavier González Unciti, who had 34 goals, also made it into the All-Star team, as well as line player Victor Romero Holguin, who was Spain’s top scorer in the competition, with 43 goals.
Bronze medallists Croatia also had a player in the All-Star team, their top scorer, left back Aleksandar Čaprić, with 42 goals, while Egypt’s left wing Belal Masoud was also selected after scoring 34 goals.
The top goal scorer and the top assists provider at Croatia 2023, Oli Mittun, also made the All-Star team as the best centre back. Mittun became the player with the highest number of goals scored in a single edition of the Men’s Youth World Championship, set by Slovenia’s Blaž Janc, with 69 goals, at Russia 2015.
Mittun scored 87 goals at Croatia 2023, 31 more than any other player, dishing 70 assists, 27 more than any other player, in a superb show of domination by the promising Faroese centre back.
The Faroe Islands sent their second player in the All-Star team this summer to the World Championship after Elias Ellefsen á Skipagøtu was also selected at the 2023 IHF Men’s Junior World Championship while also being the top scorer.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 17 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly