From the World Championship: Post-Olympic trauma and decline?

Slovenia, with Gajic as a key player, has been the pleasant surprise!

Slovenia, with Gajic as a key player, has been the pleasant surprise!

I should be a little bit careful, when for the first time in 20 years I am following a men’s World Championship via TV and internet broadcasts instead of by being present at courtside. But I am really a bit baffled and disappointed overall. Perhaps I have been unlucky, watching the wrong games, but I have not been able to find many brilliant performances by teams or individual players. Instead of technical skills and new tactical ideas, I have seen much more emphasis on physical strength and ‘power handball’, both on defense and offense. I surely hope that we are not seeing the beginning of a negative trend!

It has also been puzzling to see that many teams have been unable to perform at a high level and with good concentration for more than about half of the game, even in games where they desperately needed to win. Teams falling behind do not seem able to use time-outs and new ideas to get back in the game; instead they start getting nervous and frantic, with crazy shooting and technical mistakes. And teams which are easily winning start getting sloppy and undisciplined, perhaps thinking about saving energy for the next game. In some games it has also been apparent that traditionally strong teams must be going through a transition, where the new, young talents have not yet become fully integrated.

Yes, I know I am sounding negative, but I want to optimistic and think that the best is yet to come. On balance I prefer the format with knock-out matches from the ’round of 16′ in comparison with the system of having ‘main round groups’ after the preliminary round. It really seems that we have a great day to look forward to on Wednesday, with two great rivalries in the form of Germany-Spain and Croatia-France; and also the other two quarterfinals look really promising: Denmark-Hungary and Slovenia-Russia. But that is what I said about the match-ups yesterday and today, and especially today became an anticlimax, with three of four matches decided by half-time and Hungary running away from Poland in the second half of the remaining game.

The teams that I will be particularly interested in following are those who are clearly in a transition and therefore quite unpredictable: Germany and Russia. Slovenia is probably for many of us a pleasant surprise; I had never anticipated that they would have a chance to be in the medal round, but that is now quite realistic. I would see a good chance for Croatia to get revenge against France for key losses in recent years, as the French team has so far been confirming the suspicion that they are in decline, whereas precisely Croatia has managed their rejuvenation quite well. And then we will see if the home crowd will be an advantage for Spain or if instead it will cause too much pressure. But I see no reason to change my pre-event prediction that this time it may be Denmark’s turn.

For me the negative surprises have been Poland and Serbia. Both of them got thrashed today. I had thought that one of them would win their preliminary group and then march on to the medal round. It has also been disappointing to see that the gap between the Europeans and the rest seems to be widening or at least not be closing. I had predicted that the young Brazilian team might be the best of the non-Europeans this time and this is how it turned out. They came frustratingly close to eliminating Russia yesterday. Argentina and Tunisia met again in a critical game, just as in the Olympics and again with Tunisia as a winner. But both teams seem clearly weaker than in London.

Of course, it is mainly up to the individual federations, but the IHF also must realize that it is not good for the image of handball when the ‘continental gap’ remains so obvious. Support is urgently needed, because as it now looks, it is regrettably easy to understand why the Europeans argue that their continental events are of higher quality and more interesting.
Let us now at least hope for a great finish in the coming days, so that we can maintain our faith that the quality of the highest level of handball is not declining! And for our handball fans in the U.S.A., it is great to be able to count on high-quality TV transmissions thanks to beIN Sport!

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Article by Christer Ahl

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