NORCA: Final Standings and Top Level Assessment

(Note: Puerto Rico is 3rd due to head to head victory over Mexico)

Canada and Puerto Rico secured victories on the final day of competition to secure 2nd and 3rd place respectively and to qualify for the Pan American Championships in Greenland.  Canada held off the U.S. for a 33-31 victory.  At one point in the second half the U.S. led 24-22, but Canada was able to rally and secure the victory.  Puerto Rico beat hosts Mexico 30-28.  Puerto Rico was able to control the tempo of the match, avoiding the helter skelter style of play Mexico prefers and was able to keep the crowd out of the game.  Cuba beat the Dominican Republic 40-20 in a game that had no bearing on qualification.

Top Level Assessment

Overall:  While this tournament was still technically an event under the old Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) in many respects it was the first ever event of the new North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC).  With 6 nations participating, including an often absent Cuba, it felt like more of a Championship.  And, with 3 spots on the line for qualification to the Pan American Championships there was more to play for with real consequences.  I say this in that sometimes NORCA events have had 4 nations fighting for 3 spots.

The level of play is clearly a rung or two below South America, but was very competitive.  Really, as evidenced by the match scores there’s not a whole lot separating teams 2-6.  The largest margin of victory among the bottom 5 teams was 6 goals and even in those 2 contests the matches were closer than the score indicates.  2nd Place Canada squeaked out a 1 goal victory over 6th place Dominican Republic.  4th place Mexico played to 3 draws.  Yes, every team that played in that tournament can go home thinking they could have qualified if they had just done one or two things differently.

Going forward one can envision a competitive 8 Nation Championship.  Greenland, which didn’t participate because it’s hosting the Pan American Championship, might well have won the event.  Then add one more Caribbean team to round out the field.  Yes, a nice little tournament today and one that would get better as the nations further develop their programs.

Cuba:  This tournament provided a taste of what Cuba might have in terms of a national team.  I say a “taste” because I don’t think that Cuba did a very good job of integrating their professionals playing in Europe with their younger talent still on the island.  Still, they had talent to spare and that’s why despite inconsistent play they were the class of the field.

Canada:  A very workmanlike and consistent performance by the Canadian side resulted in their 2nd place finish.  Canada doesn’t have the most athletic team, but they are pretty solid technically and this paid dividends towards the end of several close matches.  They kept their cool and let their opponents make mistakes.  And, as anyone who follows handball knows that’s often the difference between 2 goal losses and 2 goal wins.

Puerto Rico:  Puerto Rico clearly wins the comeback award.  They started poorly with losses to Canada and Cuba.  Then played a draw to the Dominican Republic- the Dominican Republic’s only point in the tournament.  But, they still controlled their own destiny and had solid convincing wins against both the U.S. and Mexico to qualify.  They’ve got a couple of very talented players to build around.  And build they must as from what I observed they lack depth.

Mexico:  Mexico may have one of the best fast breaking teams in the tournament, but they lacked discipline in the half court game.  As the host nation, they surely will look upon three draws as all games they could have won.  And, all they needed to qualify was just 1 more point.

USA:  A disappointing finish for the U.S.  I’ll have more to say in a separate commentary

Dominican Republic:  The Dominican Republic certainly has some athletes, but was very inconsistent on offense and defense.  They show signs of promise, but need more match experience to get better.

Match Results

Tuesday April 3
Puerto Rico 27×31 Canada
United States 30×41 Cuba
Mexico 33×28 Dominican Republic

Wednesday April 4
Cuba 36×23 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 26×32 United States
Canada 26×26 Mexico

Thursday April 5
Puerto Rico 29×29 Dominican Republic
Canada 24×27 Cuba
Mexico 30×30 the United States

Saturday April 7
United States 28×34 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 21×22 Canada
Mexico 28×28 Cuba

Sunday April 8
United States 31x33vs Canada
Cuba 40×20 Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico 30×28 Mexico

NORCA Standings (After Day 2): Pivotal USA-Mexico Match Tonight

Here’s what we know after 2 matches played by all teams:

  • Cuba with several professionals playing in Europe on their roster appears to be a notch or two above the remaining five teams.  While they are inconsistent at times they are likely to finish first with an unblemished record.
  • Mexico, Canada and the U.S. appear to be roughly on the same level.  As Canada and Mexico played to a 26-26 draw last night few should argue with that assessment.  The U.S. had a solid 32-26 win over the Dominican Republic, not unlike Mexico’s 33-28 victory over the same side on day 1.
  • The Dominican Republic and perhaps, Puerto Rico are a slight notch below Mexico, Canada and the U.S.  The Dominican Republic has not lost to both the U.S. and Mexico so they clearly have an uphill climb toward qualification.  Puerto Rico played Canada close and lost to Cuba, but their next 3 matches are all winnable so they are still in the hunt.  Either side, for sure is capable of beating any team other than Cuba.

Here’s what it means going forward:

  • With Cuba likely finishing first, the remaining teams are fighting for the 2nd and 3rd positions and qualification to the Pan American Championships.
  • The Mexico-Canada draw means that it’s less likely there will be a 3 way tie in the standings with the U.S., Mexico and Canada all level on points.  This means that the matches both of those teams play against the U.S. could be pivotal in terms of qualification for the Pan American Championships.  A win against the U.S. will likely put Mexico and/or Canada in 2nd place.
  • The U.S. is all but guaranteed qualification with wins over both Mexico and Canada (A likely 2nd place finish)
  • The U.S. will likely qualify with a win over either Canada or Mexico.  (A likely third place finish)
  • A big caveat:  the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are clearly capable of beating the U.S., Mexico or Canada.  And a slip up there by any of those sides will render the above math inaccurate.
  • Puerto Rico is still in the mix, but they will likely need to run the table with 3 straight wins over the Dominican Republic, U.S. and Mexico.  (Something they surely think they are capable of.)

Results and Remaining Schedule

All times Local or Central Time, USA

Tuesday April 3
Puerto Rico 27×31 Canada
United States 30×41 Cuba
Mexico 33×28 Dominican Republic

Wednesday April 4
Cuba 36×23 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 26×32 United States
Canada 26×26 Mexico

Thursday April 5
2:00 p.m. Puerto Rico vs Dominican Republic
4:00 p.m. Canada vs Cuba
6:00 p.m. Mexico vs the United States

Friday April 6
Rest day

Saturday April 7
2:00 p.m. United States vs. Puerto Rico
4:00 p.m. Dominican Republic vs Canada
6:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Cuba

Sunday April 8
12:00 p.m. United States vs. Canada
2:00 p.m. Dominican Republic vs Cuba
4:00 p.m. Mexico vs. Puerto Rico

Streaming LinkLink

(Note:  A new streaming link for the upcoming match usually appears about 15 minutes before each match.  The link also has on demand video of previously played matches.)

Worth checking out:  The last five minutes of the Mexico-Canada match.  In particular, the would be last goal that was apparently just a fraction of a second too late: Link

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Brazil and Argentina meet yet again in a final; but Cuba causes the excitement

It happens quite often, when two semifinals are played one after the other, that great excitement is followed by an anticlimax.  This is what happened today in San Bernardo in the Panamerican Women’s Championship.  

Cuba had already offered a couple of great performances, but today they showed a tremendous determination and tenacity in the semifinal against the defending champions Argentina.  Early in the game, Argentina gained a 7-4 lead and a Cuban player was given a ‘red card’, so for the rest of the game they did not have more than eleven players available as compared with sixteen for Argentina.  But at least this is better than the seven they had in the first game of the event.  And their goalkeeper was putting up an absolutely spectacular performance.  So at half-time it was tied at 13-13 and the game continued to be close throughout the second half.   Cuba obtained a two-goal lead just before the end, but Argentina was able to tie the game at 28-28.

Double overtime followed.  Because after 5+5 minutes the score was 33-33.  And believe it or not, after an additional 5+5 minutes the scoreboard showed 38-38!  So on to a 7-meter shootout.  Here the more experienced Argentines finally managed to get the upper hand.  After the Cubans missed the third shot, hitting the crossbar, Argentina secured the win by scoring on both the fourth and the fifth throw.  In other words, the final result was 43-41.  Next after the Argentine team, perhaps the happiest ones were the Brazilian team.   They surely did not mind that their opponents in tomorrow’s final had to go through the drama of 80 minutes plus a shootout…   But the Cubans should be proud of their efforts.

In the second semifinal, Brazil had an easy time against Uruguay, just as expected.  The final result was 40-14!  When hosting an event and therefore having the right to choose a preliminary group, Brazil traditionally uses the tactic of taking the group with the stronger runner-up, in this case Cuba (or Chile) so that they can have an easier, safer semifinal…   So tomorrow we will have Brazil-Argentina in the final and Cuba-Uruguay in the bronze medal game.   All the four teams are already qualified for the World Championship.  In the 5th place game, Chile defeated the Dominican Republic by the score 28-22.  Mexico avoided last place by beating Venezuela 25-23, but both these teams will be relegated next time. 

Apropos my arguments yesterday about the tournament format:  I feel a bit sorry for Chile;  I think there are reasons to the believe that they are stronger than Uruguay and that they deserved to have a chance to be in the semifinal and, more important, in the World Championship.  But because of the format, they never got the chance to play against Uruguay.

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Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay join Brazil at the Women’s World Championship

Cuba a nice surprise but Brazil seems stronger

After the completion of today’s matches in the preliminary round of the PanAmerican Women’s Championship, the teams qualifying from PanAmerica to the World Championship are already determined.  Argentina, Cuba and Uruguay will have to return to the Sao Paulo are in December.

Because Brazil is the host in December, PanAmerica will have a total of four slots, as Brazil does not count against the normal quota of three.  Therefore, as nobody has seriously expected Brazil to fail to reach the semifinals, it was generally assumed that placing first or second in the preliminary groups and thus qualifying for the semifinals would be enough for the other teams.  In fact, when I am posting this article, just before Brazil plays its final group game against Chile, I am still technically ‘speculating’.  But my assumptions would fail to be correct only if Brazil were to lose against Chile by 23 goals or more.  Should that happen, then I would politely suggest that Interpol would need to be asked to investigate.

Brazil won their group games against Mexico and Cuba as clearly as one would have expected.  Perhaps some had thought that Chile would be in contention for the second place.  But as John Ryan reported two days ago, Cuba shocked the Chileans in the opening match.  Having only 7 players available, the Cubans complete ‘steamrolled’ the Chileans.  And the Cuban women outclassed Mexico with 35-16 today, after having lost against Brazil yesterday.  Should we start speculating about Cuba having a good chance against the defending champion Argentina in the semi-final tomorrow!?  (It would have an impact on the seeding for the World Championship).

In the other group, Argentina did not really start out as champions.  They fell behind early and just barely managed to take the lead against Uruguay before half-time.  The final result was 21-14.  Then came a comfortably win against Venezuela, and today’s seemingly easy win against the Dominican Republic may suggest that Argentina has found the form.  The excitement in this group was set up with a draw (20-20) between Uruguay and the Dominican Republic yesterday.  After Uruguay won 43-27 against Venezuela after a nervous opening in today’s first game, they then had to rely on Argentina to win by at least five or six goals against the Dominican Republic.  But it seems the suspense came to an end early, as Argentina had 14-6 at half-time and then went on to win by 33-16.

We will come back on Saturday with a summary of the final results, and also an overview of the draw for the World Championship which will be undertaken immediately afterwards.   But the way this event evolved so far makes it impossible for me to refrain from mentioning an idea that I have tried many times to convince the PanAmerican leaders about.  The tournament format is always the same, with two groups of four and then semifinals and medal games.  And the situation with qualifying for the World Championship is always the same, with either three or four teams qualifying.

In other words, the real drama is not so much around the final, or even about which teams will play in the final, because almost always in recent years it has been Argentina-Brazil.  So it seems that every effort should be made to ensure that the next best teams really get a chance to be in the semifinals, rather than having one of them eliminated after the preliminary round by placing third there.  We know that the strength of the teams is unpredictable from one event to the next.  So the seemingly better approach would be to have the group winners go directly to the final, and to have the ‘crossovers’ between second-placed against third-placed and vice versa.  Then we would feel sure that we knew who were really the deserving teams in the number three and number four positions.  But perhaps Cuba will be the exception that proves me wrong tomorrow!  Until Saturday…

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Women’s PATHF Championship Update: Iron Women Cubans demolish Chile with just 7 players

 

7 Iron Women from Cuba played all 60 minutes vs Chile

The 2011 Elite Women’s Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) Championships are underway in Brazil with the expected favorites having little trouble in the first round of matches.  Of particular note, though, was Cuba’s 40-21 thrashing of Chile with only 7 players.  It’s not clear as to why the Cubans decided to have their team travel in two separate groups, but it’s clear they sent the right 7 players first.  The “Iron Women 7” arrived in Brazil on Tuesday and apparently didn’t take long to find their rhythm as the game was never in doubt.  Argentina, Brazil and the Dominican Republic also had relatively easy wins.

The top 3 teams (not counting Brazil- already qualified) will qualify for the World Championships to held later this December in Brazil.

Mundo Handball:  Cuba will play the first match of Pan American Championships with only 7 players: http://www.mundohandball.com/articulos/cuba-jugara-el-primer-partido-del-panam-solo-con-7-jugadoras

PATHF Twitter Feed:  https://twitter.com/#!/panamhandball (includes a live and taped video feed- Not the highest quality, but our compliments to PATHF for their efforts to provide fans with this option.)

PATHF Competition Page: http://www.panamhandball.org/index.php?option=com_joomleague&func=showResultsRank&layout=bydiv&p=28&Itemid=65