On Tuesday, the Egyptian handball team outclassed their US opponents with a 35-16 win in their last game of their Group G in the preliminary round of the 28th World Handball Championship currently being held jointly in Poland and Sweden.
Egypt had become the first team to secure a place in the main round of the three-week competition even before playing their third game against the US.
The Egyptians had won their first two games in their Group G. The Pharaohs first beat Croatia 31-22 in their opener before defeating fellow Africans Morocco 30-19.
In both matches, Man of the Match trophies went to the Egyptians. Ali Mohamed was named MVP of the Croatia game while goalkeeper Abdel-Rahman Homayed claimed the trophy against Morocco.
According to the website of the International Handball Federation (IHF), the Egypt-Croatia game was one of the toughest defeats for former one-time champions Croatia at the World Championship or EHF EURO, which saw around 4,000 Croatian fans leaving the Husqvarna Garden venue disappointed. The Pharaohs thus improved their head-to-head record against the Croats whose last defeat at the opening was at Portugal 2003. The win was Egypt's first over Croatia in five World Championship meetings.
Following the game, Croatia’s head coach Hrvoje Horvat told RTL television that their defence was not good from the start. "Egypt was being able to score way too easily, and without the defence, we didn't have goalkeepers either. When a team like Egypt makes a break, it is hard to make a comeback. As a consequence, the attack became nervous and could not score the goals they usually do."
After the game against Morocco, Egypt’s Spanish head coach Roberto Parrondo said in the post-match press conference, "We were not under stress like we were on the first day against Croatia, but we are satisfied with the second victory. We played against Morocco who have improved a lot in the last few years,” he said.
Egypt will be eyeing a semi-final spot in the championship but will face a bigger challenge in the main round where they will face the teams who will advance from Group H which includes defending champions Denmark, Bahrain, Belgium and Tunisia.
The US stunned everyone at the beginning of the World Championship by beating Morocco 24-23. This is the first participation for the Americans in 22 years and their first win had brought the players a historic chance to make it to the main round. Even in defeat against Egypt, they are still through their first-ever main round, but only if Morocco lose to Croatia. While no official games have been played between the US and Egypt before this tournament, they met once at a friendly tournament back in 1996 in which Egypt won 31-22.
On Tuesday, Croatia and Morocco will clash in a decisive game for the former. While they were both beaten by Egypt, a win by Croatia will take them directly to the main round with Egypt. Morocco have no chance of advancing even if they win, but it would help them save face.
It is the second year in a row the Atlas Lions fail to qualify to the main round in their eighth World Championship appearance. An edgy 24-23 defeat by Algeria in Egypt 2021 kept them out of the main round.
Egypt has had two golden handball generations, from 1991–2001 and the present starting from 2019. The first was the first non-European team to reach the semi-finals in the World Championship - in 2001, the African side came fourth at the World Championship in France - while the current generation became the first African team to reach the semi-finals in the Olympic Games, in Tokyo.
Egypt also made it into the top 10 at three consecutive World Championships.
For the second time, the IHF Men's World Championship, which teed off on 11 January, is being contested between 32 teams. For the preliminary round (11-17 January), the teams were divided into eight groups of four. The three teams in each group with the most points advance to the main round (18-23 January), while the team in each group with the least points will play in the President's Cup (18-25 January).
The main round will see four groups of eight, with the two teams with the most points in each group progressing to the quarter-finals (25 January) in a bracket format until a champion is crowned on 29 January. It is important to note that teams that played against each other will not play against each other again in the main round.
The event is being hosted by nine Polish and Swedish cities, with venues in Krakow, Katowice, Gdansk, Plock, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Jönköping, Malmö and Kristianstad.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.