IHF Congress: A Likely Pan American Split along with some Fireworks

Hassan Moustafa: Re-elected for his 5th, 4 year term; He uses some of that capital to advocate for his proposal to split Pan America into 2 federation at the 2017 IHF Congress

The International Handball Federation (IHF) held their biennial Congress in Antalya, Turkey this past weekend and suffice to say there were a bit more fireworks than normal as attendees expressed their disappointment regarding elections and proposals on multiple occasions.

The Congress was live streamed on Youtube, but even though I’m an early riser here in the U.S. the 10 hours difference between Colorado and Turkey resulted in my personally missing some key items on the agenda.  I had thought that I could simply watch the Youtube video later, even referencing times at which particular discussions took place, but for some reason the video hasn’t been made available.  And, while friendly questions regarding the availability of the livestream were promptly answered early in the day on Saturday, questions regarding the absence of a livestream on Sunday as well as the link for Saturday’s video went unanswered.  Perhaps, this is just an oversight, though, and maybe video for the 2017 proceedings will be posted alongside the 2015 Congress which are still available on the IHF Youtube channel.

While one might think reporting what happened in an open forum would be simple and straightforward, I quickly found out there were a number of contradictory assessments as to what exactly transpired on several occasions.  I would chalk this up to the nuance of “parliamentary” procedures, challenges with speakers and listeners for whom English is their 2nd or even 3rd language, and yes, of course, the biases (including my own) of those watching.  What follows is what I’ve been able to glean from a handful of attendees, news reports and in some instances my own viewing of the live feed.

The IHF Proposal to Split Pan America into Two Federations: All but Approved

When I awoke Saturday morning this agenda item had already been covered, but I was able to rewind the Youtube feed backwards 2 hours to see/hear PHF President, Mario Moccia speaking.  It was in Spanish with no translation, but it was clear that he was angry and upset.  It turns out that the Congress had taken a vote on the IHF President’s proposal to split Pan America and that it had passed 102 to 24 with 6 abstentions.  According to Spanish speakers who listened to a Handball de Primera radio podcast Moccia was protesting that a vote was taken prior to any discussion on the matter, that the vote was open (not secret ballot) and that the vote was even taken at all since all of the Pan American nations were against the proposal.

Following Moccia’s protestations, IHF President Hassan Moustafa then spoke outlining the reasons for the proposal and chastised the PHF for its failure to develop the sport.  In particular, he noted that PHF’s growth from 19 to 40 nations was directly attributable to IHF efforts and not the PHF.  Further, he noted his discussions with the U.S. Olympic Committee and the Los Angeles Olympic Organization Committee and that the PHF has made no efforts to develop the sport in North America.

The IHF President then indicated that the issue would be deferred to the IHF Council for a final decision.  As the IHF Council has already recommended approval of the proposal one could assume that they will approve it again.  Still to be addressed is the timeline for the eventual splitting of the Federations and the allocation of qualification slots for the World Championships and the Olympics.  Of particular interest is a report at Handball-Planet that says a “reliable source” has indicated that North America would get its own Olympic Qualification Slot.  If true, this is a significant development and it would certainly call into question any claims to PHF unity in opposition to a split.  At least I would have a hard time understanding why any North American nation would still want to be part of a combined federation where Olympic Qualification would mean travelling to South America to beat Brazil and/or Argentina.

Elections not without Controversy

First, congratulations are in order for Canadian Handball Federation President, Racquel Pedercini who was elected Chair of the Commission for Development.  This should be beneficial to North America and its efforts to further develop the sport in this region.  This vote was interesting in that it was relatively close and that the other main candidate was Mario De La Torre from Mexico.

Other elections of note include Dr Hassan Moustafa’s unopposed re-election for yet another 4 years as the IHF President. Dr Moustafa’s tenure has not been without controversy and the fact that he had no challengers really signals that he has solid support to push through his agenda and initiatives, like the proposed Pan American Federation split.

The election for the IHF 1st VP was controversial in that sitting VP, Miguel Roca won the first round of voting over Joel Delplanque of France and Ulrich Rubeli of Switzerland.  And, then according to reports he was even congratulated on stage for his victory until it was later noted that he had not received a majority and that another round of voting was required with the 2 highest vote getters.  In that 2nd vote he lost out to Delplanque 69-63 and some have voiced concern that some supporters might have left the room and not participated in the 2nd round of voting.

The Executive Council vote provided drama in that Russian candidate, Sergey Shiskarev, was not included in the voting for failing to meet the criterion of “6 years high level involvement in handball.”  While Shiskarev has clearly been involved with sports at a high level for many years it’s certainly debatable as to whether he has 6 years of involvement with handball at a high level.  I did not personally see the drama during the during the vote itself, but I did have the opportunity to witness a very contentious and awkward exchange between Shiskarev and Moustafa during the agenda item confirming the next Congress’s host.  Normally such an agenda item is a perfunctory, almost celebratory confirmation, but in this instance it was a rebuke and withdrawal of Russia’s offer to host by Shiskarevev.  The exchange was heated as Moustafa seemed somewhat surprised by the withdrawal and chastised Shiskarev for using this agenda item to address his exclusion from the election.  Further, since the meeting Shiskarev has threatened to take court action.

Both Genders on IHF Bodies and Testing of New Rules

Norway put forth a couple of motions that were easily approved.  First, IHF bodies will now be required to have members of both genders.  This seems like it should be a given, but this new rule should serve as an impetus for greater gender equity.  Additionally, proposed new rule changes will not be first tested by at least 3 national federations prior to implementation.  This should help avoid having a major tournament like the 2016 Olympics becoming the primary testing ground for a major rule change like the open goalkeeper substitution.

New TV Contract

MP&Silva was announced as the winner of the new global TV/Media rights contract and they will be responsible for selling rights to nations world-wide.  Notably, the award was made not just for 2 cycles (2019 and 2021), but for 4 cycles (2019, 2021, 2023 and 2025) meaning the MP&Silva will be the go to agency for the next 8 years.

The previous contract had been with beIN Sports and on multiple occasions they had struggled to sign deals with other networks/channels in nations that did not carry the beIN Sports network.  This resulted in no network broadcasts of the 2017 WC in Germany.  And, even in nations (e.g. USA) where beIN Sports has a network, they often chose to not broadcast any WC matches

MP&Silva will simply broker rights to networks world-wide for the IHF.  Terms of the deal were not provided.

IHF Summary of the 2017 Congress: Link

 

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal and a High Stakes Vote in Turkey

The IHF President Proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation in two and still on the agenda for the upcoming IHF Congress.  A major vote that could change handball in Pan America for decades to come.

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 2):  The Curious Politics Behind the Proposal

In Part 1, I outlined the IHF’s proposal to split the Pan American Federation into two separate federations.  In Part 2, I look at the overall merits of the proposal, the curious politics behind it, and a looming high stakes vote at the IHF Congress in Turkey.

Not a Perfect Deal, but One that Makes Sense

As discussed in Part 1, there’s a lot of pros and cons to the IHF proposal to split the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF) in two.  Personally, I took some offense to the lack of World Championship qualification slots.  1 slot only for Youth and Jr Championships.  And, essentially half a slot for Sr. Championships.  While it may reflect the current competitive status of North American/Caribbean Handball it’s still quite a snub.  But, once I got over the snub and weighed the cost savings and the opportunity to create truly regional competitions I started to warm to the proposal.

And, the more I’ve thought about it the more I’ve warmed up to it.  The reality is that it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for all that travel back and forth across the equator.  All that money spent paying airlines will be roughly halved… forever.  Those costs are different for each nation, but make no mistake there’s some real big savings over time.  And, there are just too many Pan American events right now that are for all practical purposes simply South American events.  The recently completed Women’s Club Championships are a prime example:  8 clubs- all from South America.

I think the New York City Team Handball Club Men’s team is only side from the North that has ever participated in a club championship And, yes club handball is not very well developed in the North, but bet your bottom dollar, if this championship was ever staged in the North, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Cuba would be far more likely to attend.  And, then maybe only one team from Argentina and Brazil would make the trip up north.

And, this is not likely to ever change in a Federation that spans from Greenland in the north to Tierra Del Fuego in the south.  Club Championships, Jr and Youth Championships will continue to have limited participation due to travel costs.  Only Sr Championships will be truly North/South affairs.

Whereas, if you split the federations there’s a real chance that the North will see legitimate growth in participation to all those events.  Ideally, it could turn into handball’s version of the FIFA CONCACAF.  Not the strongest Federation, but a competitive one with good participation in all events.  And, perhaps even the South will see growth with the 5 primary nations (Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Chile) focusing on and encouraging growth in Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Colombia, Venezuela and Central America.  In theory, they could create a legitimate handball CONMEBOL.

And, I’m not even factoring in the contentious issues that roiled the Federation 10 years ago.  Major issues that were resolved with devastating impacts to Canada and Greenland.  Things have been more agreeable the past few years and it’s nice to see some championship events coming north for a change.  But, with a split?  Well, those issues would never rise to the fore again because the disagreeing nations would be in separate federations.

But, a Deal that’s Being Unanimously Rejected?

Well, while I may have warmed to the idea of two federations, the PHF nations soundly rejected the proposal at an Extraordinary Congress held on 7 October.  As stated on the PHF website:

  • Se trató la propuesta presentada por el Presidente de la IHF de dividir al Continente Americano en dos Federaciones (Norte y Sur) y la misma no contó con ninguna adhesión positiva.

Or, in Google Translate :  “The proposal presented by the President of the IHF to divide the American Continent in two Federations (North and South) was discussed and it did not have any positive adhesion.”

As to why it was rejected, no rationale has been provided.  Speculation on my part, but I would surmise that many nations are resistant to change or are concerned with qualification slots.  Regardless, while the proposal merited only one sentence, this proposal was the reason why a PHF Extraordinary Congress was held and it wasn’t just discussed, it was discussed at length.

It surely would have been interesting to have been a fly on the wall of that meeting, but I’ve heard next to nothing (on or off the record) as to what was discussed.  Nobody’s talking and for something like this with major potential repercussions that is a bit surprising.  Yes, the PHF appears to have quite a bit more discipline then the leaky Trump White House.

The Curious History and Politics Behind the Proposal

What’s really curious about this proposal is that it was initiated by the IHF.  This in many respects would be sort of like the European Union proposing to Spain that it split into 2 countries, Spain and Catalonia.  As an organization it’s fairly easy to see it from the PHF perspective: “Mind your own business, would ya?  If we want to split the PHF, we’ll figure out that ourselves and then we will put forward a proposal to the IHF for consideration.”

And, what makes things curiouser and curiouser?  A similar proposal was submitted by the U.S. back in 2009 and it was rejected by the IHF.  Former USA Team Handball Board President, Dieter Esch, later voiced his displeasure with IHF President Moustafa’s lack of support to his proposed breakaway federation.  Indeed, it was a factor in Esch’s decision to step down and discontinue his generous financial support to USA Team Handball.  And, now Dr. Moustafa is taking up the mantle for a North American Federation?  And, USA Team Handball is rejecting the proposal?

It should have you scratching your head.  But, then again, USA Team Handball has entirely different leadership now and having known USA Team Handball CEO, Mike Cavanaugh, for around 30 years, he’s not one to prone to rock the boat unless it is absolutely necessary.

Additionally, as I discussed in my interview with Handball de Primera, it’s possible that some nations in the PHF were/are reluctant to speak out openly, out of fear of future repercussions should the proposal not come to fruition.  For sure, it would be awkward to attend future PHF meetings after having previously voiced support for leaving the PHF.  And, it would only be natural for future issues and decisions to be weighed negatively against the “traitor” in their midst.  Yes, often it is better to be quiet and tactical in such a situation.  But, to be honest I’ve got little insight as to what the nations are thinking and this is clearly speculation on my part.

The Way Ahead: Drama and High Stakes in Turkey?

Well, you might think that this issue is over.  After all, the PHF nations unanimously rejected the proposal.  The IHF wouldn’t force the PHF to split if they don’t want to? Right?

Well, apparently that’s not the case as the proposal is still on the agenda for upcoming IHF Congress in Antalya, Turkey on 11-12 November.   And, you can even read the proposal which in a rare moment of transparency is readily available on the IHF Congress website.  This wording is virtually identical to the IHF Council Meeting Minutes except for the omission of information regarding WC qualification slots (which I outlined in part 1).

So, assuming this proposal stays on the agenda, the IHF Congress will vote on the motion to split Pan America in two.  For passage, the motion will require a 2/3 majority.  This may seem like a steep hurdle, but President Moustafa who is running unopposed for his 5th term as IHF President generally knows how to count up the votes.  The IHF 2013 Congress had 163 attendees and the 2015 IHF Congress had 139, so one could assume that the 2017 Congress will have similar attendance.  Perhaps even more as additional nations have joined the IHF.  Further, the IHF has been known to pay airfare and hotel for developing nations to attend, which often endears support from those representatives on key votes.

If there are 160 voting members, the measure would need to have 107 voting in support to beat the 53 voting against.  And, one can do a whole lot of speculating as to where the votes might come from for either bloc.  Key questions to be asked and answered in Turkey:

  • How many nations will show up and how many are attending on the IHF’s dime?
  • How strongly will the IHF President push this motion? Will he be content to let the Congress decide or will he see its non-passage as an affront to his leadership?
  • How will the different continental federations discuss this proposal at their meetings prior to the IHF Congress? Michael Wiederer, the influential EHF President voiced his support for the proposal stating that he is in favor as it would help to strengthen handball in the economically important country of USA. How might other IHF Council members lobby their respective continents?
  • Can the PHF member nations effectively lobby other nations with the rationale that this proposal shouldn’t be forced upon a continental federation? (i.e. The message being that your continent could be next)
  • Are the PHF member nations truly united against this proposal or will some take the opportunity of a secret ballot to vote in favor?
  • And will some renegade PHF nations even go further? Actually lobbying for the proposal in private or with a wink and a nod in a semi-private discussion in the hotel lobby or at a coffee break?
  • What will USA Team Handball say or do? As this proposal is in part focused on U.S. development a few choice words in public and/or private could make a real difference.

Honestly, I don’t know the answers to any of these questions which makes the outcome all the more interesting.  In another life, as a NATO Staff Officer I attended dozens of meetings with the flags around the table.  With very few exceptions these meetings were snoozers with little doubt as what would be decided… because anything important had already been decided before the meeting.

But, this might very well indeed be the rare case where an International Meeting takes place with the outcome to a major issue in doubt.  There might even be impassioned discussion at the Congress right before the vote takes place.  Something rarely seen or heard.  And this discussion should even be available for viewing on a live web stream on the IHF Congress web page.  An unprecedented possibility that should have every handball fan in Pan America on the edge of their seat.

Yes, mark your calendars.  11 November 2017 could be the date that seals Pan America’s fate one way or the other.

The IHF Proposes a Pan American Split (Part 1):  The Pros and Cons

The IHF is proposing to split the PHF into 2 separate federations.

This past summer I began hearing rumors of a possible split to the Pan American Handball Federation (PHF).   A couple of postings on the PHF website have indeed confirmed that the rumors are true and I’ve now seen an outline of the actual proposal.  Surprisingly, the proposal actually came from the IHF as opposed to a PHF member nation.

For reference, here’s an overview of the current PHF nations and qualification paths:  Link

Detailed Map of PHF Handball Nations: Link

The proposed IHF split would do the following:

  • Split the PHF into two separate federations: A North America and Caribbean Federation and a South America and Central America Federation.  So, unlike soccer it would be a CONCA and not a CONCACAF.
  • For Jr and Youth World Championships the North/Caribbean would receive 1 qualification slot and the South/Central would be awarded 3 slots just like Asia, Africa and Europe. The new North/Caribbean slot for the Jr WC would come at the expense of the reigning Youth Champion and the new Youth WC slot would come at the expense 2nd best continent at the preceding Youth WC.  So, in practical terms the new North/Caribbean slots would likely mean that Europe would lose 1 of their ~12 slots for Junior WC and that Africa, Asia, or South America would lose a bonus slot for the Youth WC.
  • For Sr World Championships the IHF borrows a bit from FIFA World Qualification formats and essentially gives the North/Caribbean a ½ slot and gives South/Central America 2 ½ slots. With the ½ slots being decided by a playoff between the North/Caribbean Champion and the South/Central 3rd place team.
  • For the Olympics the IHF proposal only states that “the qualification process for the Olympic Games shall be discussed later.”

The IHF listed several rationales for this proposed split to include

  • Improved organization as each Federation would be focused on serving fewer nations
  • Cost savings particularly due to smaller travel distances
  • Greater participation from nations that currently don’t have a realistic chance of making the PHF or IHF championship events
  • Opportunities for beach handball growth in the Caribbean

Assessing the Pros and Cons

There’s certainly some positive aspects to this proposal along with some shortcomings.  Here’s an assessment of the Pros and Cons

Pros:

Cost Savings:  If this proposal were to be approved there would be some significant cost savings in travel.  Here’s some back of the envelope calculations based on a sampling of flights from Atlanta to different destinations.  In broad terms travel to cities like Sao Paulo and Buenos Aires is twice as expensive as it is to go to the Caribbean, Canada or Mexico.  Around $600/person cheaper per flight.  If a team contingent is 18 and a Federation makes an average of 1.5 North to South (or vice versa) trips a year that’s $16,200 in costs that would disappear.  Right now there are about 12 active Federations in the PHF so that would be $194,400 in total savings/year.  And, if one does a simple x10 calculation that would be $1.94 million dollars over a decade. Admittedly that’s some very rough analysis, but while we could argue about the numbers, there’s no denying this would save a lot of money over the long term.  A lot of money for resourced starved nations that could then be spent on development instead of airline travel.

Greater Participation:  Directly tied to the cost savings is the possibility that more nations would participate in more events.  Somewhat established nations like the U.S., Canada and Mexico would be more likely to participate in Jr and Youth events.  Less established nations in the Caribbean and South America might see an upsurge in participation as well.

Independence Would Eliminate Issues of Fairness:  I was really pleased with recent PHF developments to award Greenland the Men’s Sr PHF Championships and the U.S. the Beach Championships.  But, I also remember some major injustices meted out by our friends in the South.  Not trivial little things either.  Canadian Handball was on the verge of a renaissance a decade ago when they qualified and participated in the 2005 WC, but due to arcane rules they weren’t even allowed to participate in WC qualification in 2006.  And, then Greenland was demoted to Associated Membership after they went to the WC in 2007.  The U.S. might very well have qualified for the 2007 PANAM Games if the 2nd chance tournament hadn’t been moved at the last minute from Puerto Rico to Chile.  Yes, these events were a decade ago, but I’ve got a long memory.  Of course, there are bound to be conflicts within any organization, but given the distances between the North and the South I suspect key decisions in the future will continue to gravitate towards a north/south split in opinion.  I also like to think the level of disagreement won’t reach the heights that it did a decade ago, but make no mistake there will continue to be contentious issues.

No Major Change to the WC Slot Status Quo:  For all practical purposes while the North is being short changed on WC slot allotment it wouldn’t result in much change to the current status quo.  In some respects it’s even better for the North as several times we’ve failed to send any team to the World Jr or Youth Championships either because we didn’t place high enough or failed to send any team at all. And, for last 5 Sr tournaments the North for the most part has missed out on the semifinals and the opportunity to play for 3rd place and the last WC slot.  (Cuba and Puerto Rican Women in 2015 being the exception).  Under this format the North champion would be guaranteed a chance to qualify for the 3rd slot.  Further this playoff could even be a marketable event.

Cons:

The Oceania Treatment: While it’s true there’s no change to the current status quo, if one looks at this proposal from a WC slot allocation perspective, the proposed North/Caribbean Federation is pretty much being treated as another Oceania.  Nothing against our friends from the Pacific, but give us a little respect will ya?  The U.S. has been in a downward cycle for the past 20 years, but with an Olympics we will surely improve.  The Greenland men knocked off Argentina at the 2016 PHF Championship.  Cuba has several pros playing in Europe and when properly resourced they can be very competitive.  This split should come with more WC slots or at the very least there should be some clear benchmarks given to the North/Caribbean Federation as to how those slots can be increased.  And, really how many European teams do we need at the World Championships?  Yes, maybe one of the performance slots should be given to the North/Caribbean champion.

Weaker Competitions:  Splitting into 2 Federations will mean that each competition will be weaker.  In particular, the teams from the North will no longer get the experience of playing the Brazilian Women and the Brazilian and Argentine Men.  While matches against those sides have recently been blowouts it’s still very beneficial for weaker nations to get a yardstick as to where they stand against top competition.  And, even the South tourney will be degraded with sides like Uruguay, Chile and Paraguay missing out on matches against peer nations like Greenland, the U.S. and Canada.

The 8 Nation Rule: Underlying possible concerns with this split is a recent IHF competition rules requirement for federations to have at least 8 nations participating in World Championship Qualification events.  While Pan America may have around 30 full and associate members, the level of participation varies dramatically.  Perhaps around a dozen nations have fairly active programs, regularly participating in Sr events and to varying degrees Jr and Youth events.  Then there are around 6 nations that are somewhat established and sporadically play in qualifying events.  And, finally there around a dozen nations in Central America and Caribbean that are really fledgling nations.  I think for some of them the IHF Trophy tournament just this past year was their very first official competition.

So what does all of this mean?  Well right now the PHF can easily meet the 8 nation rule for Sr events, but doing so relies on participation from the established nations from both the North and the South.  The South could probably meet the 8 nation requirement independently, but it would need to coax nations like Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and the Central America nations into participating to ensure that it’s met.  And, doing so for Jr and Youth events would be even more challenging.  The North/Caribbean Federation would have even a harder time coaxing the fledgling nations of the Caribbean to participate.  Perhaps there could be a Caribbean championship and also maybe the French Departments of Guadaloupe and Martinique could participate.  (Side note: Trinidad & Tobago is one of the fledgling nations.  Will some future USA National Team have to travel to Port of Spain to ignominiously go down in defeat in a handball WC qualifier?)

While it’s true that the shorter distances might allow greater participation both of the new Federations might find themselves short of numbers and accordingly losing their WC slots.  Perhaps the IHF will provide a grace period for growth requirements.

So there’s a rundown on the pros and cons, as I see it.  But, what about the PHF nations and the IHF as a whole.  What do they think about the proposal? In Part 2, I’ll take a closer look at the history of Pan American Handball and the politics behind this proposal.

Can the USA Qualify for the Semifinals?  Yes, the Math Allows it, but Can the Team Meet the Challenge.

Team USA picks up their first win vs Colombia. A 5 goal win tomorrow vs Paraguay would let them sneak into the semifinals.

Earlier this evening Team USA got the exact results they were looking for.  First, they took care of business easily beating Colombia 31-17 to pick up their first win in the tournament.  The U.S. played their most complete game playing solid defense and scoring readily on the fast break.  Then afterwards, Paraguay handed Puerto Rico its first loss of the tournament to set up a possible 3 way tie on points for 2nd place in Group A.

Assuming Brazil beats Puerto Rico tomorrow, Puerto Rico will finish with 4 points.  And, if the U.S. can muster a win over Paraguay tomorrow, both Paraguay and the U.S. will also have 4 points.  And, those 3 teams in head to head competition will each have 2 points a piece with 1 win and 1 loss, meaning that tiebreakers will come into play.

Here’s the current standings.

Head to Head Standings (Current)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
Paraguay 1 0 0 2 4 28 24
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA 0 1 0 0 -4 25 29

First the simple math:  If Paraguay wins or draws with the U.S. it’s all over.  Paraguay takes 2nd place.

But, here’s the more complicated math and the possible scenarios.  Keep in mind Puerto Rico is done as far as this head to head competition goes since they’ve already played their matches against the U.S. and Paraguay.

The first tie breaker is head to head goal differential

USA wins by 5 (or more)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD
USA (Qualifies for SF) 1 1 0 2 1
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 -1
USA wins by 3 (or less)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD
Paraguay (Qualifies for SF) 1 1 0 2 1
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0
USA 1 1 0 2 -1

If, however, the USA were to win by 4 goals, there would be a tied Goal Differential, meaning the next tiebreaker, Total goals head to head would break the tie.

USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 29 (or more)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
USA (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 54 54
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 27 (or less)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
Puerto Rico (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
USA 1 1 0 2 0 52 52
Paraguay 1 1 0 2 0 51 51

And, finally, if the U.S. were to win by the score of 28-24, there would be a tie in total head to head goals

USA wins by 4 exactly and scores 28 (exactly)
Win Lose Draw Pts GD GF GA
USA 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Puerto Rico 1 1 0 2 0 53 53
Paraguay (Qualifies) 1 1 0 2 0 52 52

And, while you might think that Paraguay would drop out since they can’t match the 53 total goals, that’s not how the tiebreakers work.  Even if a tie is just between two teams the other teams don’t drop out, but continue to the next tie breaker which Goal Differential in all matches where Paraguay has a sizable lead.

Forget the Math Lesson, Can the USA win by 5 goals tomorrow?

Well, the answer to that question really depends on which USA team shows up tomorrow.  If it’s the team that got run out of the building by Brazil 42-10 the answer is clearly no way.  If it’s the team that was inconsistent against Puerto Rico, again, no chance.  But, if it’s the team that played solidly earlier today against Colombia, there’s a chance. Sure, Paraguay is a better side than Colombia, but the Paraguay team I saw today against Puerto Rico, while athletic is pretty young and inexperienced.  Their set offense is anything but fluid and a solid defense effort could fluster Paraguay and create some turnovers and fast break opportunities.  Create a little lead that could be expanded upon.  The U.S. has dug themselves in a bit of a whole, but it’s possible they could dig their way out.  Game time tomorrow is 1330 ET.

Preview and Analysis: Women’s Pan American Championships

USA Women celebrating their 2nd Place NORCA result. Can they take 3rd and qualify for the World Championships at the Pan American Championships?

The Women’s Pan American Championships start on Sunday with 10 nations from North, Central and South America participating.  This tournament held every two years also serves as the qualification for the World Championships and the top 3 teams will be awarded tickets to the 2015 in Germany.

Analysis

It’s a real good bet that perennial favorites Brazil and Argentina will each win their groups, win their semifinal matches and then play each other in the final.  Brazil will then be favored, but with the home crowd Argentina might have a shot of an upset.  But, thanks to Cuba’s decision to not participate in the tournament that battle for third place could be real interesting and at least 6 teams can realistically talk about making the semifinals and taking the 3rd World Championships qualification slot.

I’m a huge fan of the website fivethirtyeight.com and their statistical projections for a variety of sports.  The model they use relies on past results, but because there simply are not enough matches between the teams involved it wouldn’t make sense to run it through their algorithm.  That being said, here’s my assessment based on relevant recent results for each team reaching the semifinals and qualifying for the World Championships (3rd Place or higher)

Group A Make Semifinals WC Qualification (3rd place)
Brazil >99+% >99+%
Puerto Rico 40% 20%
USA 30% 15%
Paraguay 25% 10%
Colombia 5% 2%

Group B

Group B Make Semifinals WC Qualification (3rd Place)
Argentina >99+% >99+%
Uruguay 50% 25%
Chile 30% 18%
Dominican Republic 20% 10%
Guatemala  <1%  <1%

 

U.S. Prospects

It’s a bit of déjà vu for the U.S. as the situation for the 2017 Championships somewhat mirrors what took place in 2015.  In 2015, the U.S. performed well at the North American & Caribbean (NORCA) Championships and we’re given a favorable draw that set the table for them to qualify for the World Championships.  Alas, that didn’t happen as Greenland and Puerto Rico, two teams the U.S. had beaten at NORCA turned the tables on the U.S. and they ended up finishing in a disappointing 10th place.

Now two years later the U.S. has had another strong performance at NORCA, winning all their group play matches and just narrowly losing in the final to hosts, Puerto Rico.  And, the draw is again favorable with all of their group matches winnable with the exception of its first opponent, Brazil.  For the USA, its 2nd match of the tournament against Puerto Rico will be pivotal.  A win there will put one foot in the door to the semifinals.  On paper, the U.S. and Puerto Rico are very evenly matched having split their last 4 matches in qualification competitions with no side winning by more than 4 goals.  I give Puerto Rico the edge as they stepped up in 2015 to take the last qualification spot available, but the U.S. surely can field some confidence having beaten Puerto Rico recently in Puerto Rico.  Also, not to be dismissed is Paraguay which beat the USA 23-20 in 2015 and played Puerto Rico close, losing 33-29.  Even Colombia, which hasn’t played recently in qualification events shouldn’t be discounted.

In the other pool, Uruguay is the favorite having beaten Chile twice in 2015 competitions and having placed 3rd at the 2015 PANAM Games.  They also beat the U.S. twice in the 2015 Last Chance Qualification matches and had a convincing 21-15 victory over the U.S. in a friendly match played just this past Thursday.  It would be a sweet, sweet revenge opportunity for the U.S. should they meet in a 3rd place bronze medal game, but let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves.  There’s a lot of handball to be played in the coming week.

Results from Recent PHF Competitions

2017 NORCA Championships
April 3 (Gold Medal) Puerto Rico 28, USA 27
March 30 (Group Play) USA 28, Puerto Rico 26

2015 PANAM Games Qualification
March 7 Uruguay 30, USA 25
March 14 Uruguay 24, USA 22

2015 Pan American Championships
May 22 Paraguay 25, USA 24
May 23 Puerto Rico 23, USA 20
May 24 Puerto Rico 33, Paraguay 29

2015 NORCA Championships
April 2 (Group Play) USA 33, Puerto Rico 29

 

USA Women’s Schedule

Sunday, 18 June USA vs Brazil 1915 (Local), 1815 (ET)
Monday, 19 June USA vs Puerto Rico 1330 (Local), 1230 (ET)
Tuesday, 20 June <Day Off>
Wednesday, 21 June USA vs Colombia 1500 (Local), 1400 (ET)
Thursday, 22 June USA vs Paraguay 1430 (Local), 1330 (ET)
Friday, 23 June <Day Off>
Saturday, 24 June <Semifinals>
Sunday, 25 June <Placement Match>

Official Tournament website: Link

Live Streaming

All of the matches will be live streamed by TyC Sports in Argentina.  If the quality of the video matches what was recently provided for the Argentina – USA friendly match, fans around the world are in for a real treat.

TyC Sports Play: Link

USA Falls to Argentina 33-20 in Preparatory Friendly Match

USA’s Kathy Darling draws a crowd as she shoots on goal vs Argentina

Argentina beat the United States, 33-20, yesterday in a friendly match yesterday in Buenos Aires.  Argentina, the second or third best team in Pan America (behind Brazil and possibly Cuba) dominated the match from the start building a comfortable 7-2 lead in the first 12 minutes.  This lead was gradually extended and the last 5 minutes of the first half got a little ragged with the U.S. playing down 2 players following a debatable Red Card decision given to Team Captain, Sarah Gascon for a foul on wing shot.  The score at the half was 20-10.

The second half was a more even affair as both teams liberally substituted and both coaches experimented with different combinations of players.  The U.S. clamped down on defense and the second half scoreline was a more respectable 13-10.

Overall, the U.S. offense looked more structured and organized than it has in the past.  Argentina played fairly aggressive on defense, coming out high to disrupt the USA offense, but for the most part Team USA did a decent job of controlling the ball, limiting turnovers and resultant fast breaks.  The U.S. 6-0 defense, however, traditionally a strong point for the U.S., was not as effective as it has been in the past.  Argentina was able to consistent break down the U.S. defense for breakthroughs and wing shots.

With the liberal substitution the U.S. scoring was very balanced with 4 players (Kathy Darling, Sarah Gascon, Ashley Butler and Jence Rhoads) scoring 3 goals apiece. Anja Borg and Shani Levinkind added 2 each, and 4 players (Julia Taylor, Ashley Van Ryn, Nicole Andersen and Elizabeth Hartnett) scoring one.

The U.S. plays another friendly match vs Uruguay today and plays its first match of the official tournament against Brazil on Sunday.

On Demand Video of match: Link (Note: TyC’s video quality is outstanding.  If that’s the video quality we’ll see for the tournament, we’re in for a great remote viewing experience)

Teams and Draw Pools for Women’s PHF Championship Draw Revealed: Cuba is No Show    

Cuba’s Women’s Team: Good news for the U.S. and other 2nd tier Pan-American nations: They won’t be participating at the upcoming Championships

The Pan-American Handball Federation (PHF) has revealed the draw pools for this summer’s Pan-American Sr. Women’s Championship and in doing so they have confirmed that Cuba, the 2015 silver medalist will not be participating in the competition.  There was no indication as to why, but it is likely due to budget considerations.  Cuba’s absence means that only two dominant teams (Brazil and Argentina) will be participating and that several nations, including the U.S., now have a realistic chance of securing 3rd place and Pan-America’s last World Championship qualification slot.

The 10 teams will be drawn into two groups of 5 teams each with 1 team coming from each of the following pairs:

  • Brazil, Argentina
  • Puerto Rico, Uruguay
  • Paraguay, Chile
  • USA, Guatemala
  • Colombia, Dominican Republic

Based on past performance it’s pretty much unfathomable that Brazil will not be in the final.  Argentina is not as good as Brazil, but as they are now the tournament it’s pretty improbable that they will also not reach the final.  Among the remaining 8 teams there is a great deal of parity with only Guatemala being at a significantly lower level of play.  I would give, Puerto Rico a slight edge based on their 4th place finish two years ago, but the U.S. certainly is in the conversation as well having split two matches against them recently at the NORCA Championship. Puerto Rico was, however, missing at least one key player, 22 year old breakout star right wing, Jailene Maldonado, who now plays professionally in Spain.  Uruguay, which beat the U.S. to qualify for the 2015 PANAM Games is also in the mix.

The date for the actual draw has not been announced.  The tournament will take place in Buenos Aires from 18-25 June.

2015 Championship Results: Link

PHF Article on Draw Pools: Link

 

USA Takes Gold after Thrilling Comeback vs Martinique

Team USA: Pan-American IHF Trophy Champions

The U.S. beat Martinique 21-20 yesterday to take Gold in the IHF Trophy Championship for Pan-America.  The first half of the match saw Martinique control the match and tempo for a 12-7 halftime lead.  The second half saw the U.S. and Martinique trade goals for the first 13 minutes with Martinique leading 16-11.  The U.S. then went on a 5 goal run to cut the lead to 16-15.  The match was then a nip/tuck affair with the U.S. first tying the score 18-18 at the 27 minute mark and taking its first lead, 20-19 with 1:12 left in the game.

The last minute had several frenetic sequences.  First, the U.S. lost its team captain, Antoine Baup to a 2 minute penalty.  Martinique scored shorty thereafter tying the match at 20-20 and then put a lot of defensive pressure on the down a man U.S. offense.  A wing shot by Youssef El Far missed, but hit the cross bar and was rebounded by Tyler Boykin giving the U.S. another opportunity.  And Sam Hoddersen took that opportunity, getting fouled for a 7 meter penalty shot which he then scored giving the U.S a 21-20 lead.  With just 5 seconds remaining Martinique immediately went on attack and received its own 7 meter penalty with no time remaining.  But, the opportunity to send the match into overtime was denied by USA goalie, Rene Ingram.  Video of the save and the resulting U.S. victory celebration can be seen here: Link  (The contrast between the Martinique and USA reactions tells all.)

Team USA Scoring
Sam Hoddersen- 11
Youssef El Far- 4
Antoine Baup- 3
Cedric Kollman-2
Michael Lee- 1
(Note: Sean Zimber was marked defensively almost the entire game.  That strategy held him scoreless, but I’m not so sure it was a smart strategy overall.)

The U.S. was well represented on the tournament All Star team with 4 players receiving honors

Left Back – Sean Zimber
Right Back – Sam Hoddersen
Right Wing – Youssef El Far
Goalkeeper – Rene Ingram

Cedrick Kollman was also the tournament’s leading scorer.

The victory qualifies the U.S. for the IHF Trophy Intercontinental Championship where the U.S. will meet the winners of the Africa, Asia, Europe and Oceania competitions.  The IHF Trophy tournament is a tournament that the IHF has adopted to give developing handball nations more opportunities to compete.

Video of match: Link

Video of Closing Ceremonies: Link

USA Takes Care of Business vs Guatemala; Rematch vs Martinique Today for Title

Team USA on defense vs Guatemala

Yesterday, the U.S. finished Group Play with a comfortable, 28-21 victory over Guatemala.  Sam Hoddersen led the U.S. in scoring with 12 goals while Antoine Baup had 8.  Youssef El Far (4), Sean Zimber (3) and Tyler Boykin (1) rounded out the scoring.

The game had originally been scheduled for Tuesday, but due to strong rains and a leaky roof it had to be rescheduled for Friday.  With the win, the U.S. finished in 2nd place with a 2-1-0 record and today will get a chance to avenge its loss against undefeated Martinique.  The U.S. lost by 10 against Martinique, but with a title on the line don’t be surprised if this rematch is a lot more competitive.  The winner of today’s match will take home the gold and will also advance to the Intercontinenal IHF Trophy tournament where it will face the winners from Africa, Europe, Asia and Oceania.

Game time is 1600 ET

Web Stream: Link

Competition Website: Link

USA Defeats Colombia 25-23 in First IHF Trophy Match

Antoine Baup (#6) and Sean Zimber (#7) on defense while Rene Ingram tends goal.

After a rain out Tuesday, the USA got some court action yesterday against tournament hosts Colombia.  Right out of the gate the USA took a 5 goal lead only to have Colombia chip away at the lead to end the first half tied 12-12.  In the 2nd half Colombia took a 21-18 lead, but the USA staged its own comeback and controlled the last 10 minutes of play for the eventual 25-23 victory.  Rene Ingram was instrumental in goal with many big saves, including several on penalty shots.  Cedric Kollman and Sam Hoddersen led USA scoring with 7 and 6 goals, respectively.  Antoine Baup and Sean Zimber added 4 each.  Michael Lee and Youssef El Far rounded out the scoring with 2 a piece.

Tonight the USA plays 2-0 Martinique at 2000 Eastern Time.  A win will guarantee the U.S. a trip to the championship game which will most likely be a rematch vs Martinique.  Even with a loss, the U.S. is still in good shape and would still qualify for the final with a win over Guatemala on Friday.

Live steam: Link

USA Men’s Jr Team to Start Play for IHF Trophy Continental Championship

Team USA at yesterday’s opening ceremonies in Tunja, Colombia

The USA Men’s Jr Team is in Tunja, Colombia for the IHF Trophy Continental Championship.  The IHF Trophy is a series of tournaments for developing nations that is played throughout the world.  This tournament features the winners of the 4 regional tournaments that have been previously played.

USA: North American Zone
Martinique: Caribbean Zone
Guatemala: Central American Zone
Colombia: South American Zone

The 4 teams will play a round robin and then the bottom 2 teams will play for 3rd and the top 2 teams will play for 1st.  The winner will then advance to the final Intercontinental tournament where they will play the winners of the other continental championships.

The USA had been scheduled to start play on Tuesday, but the game had to be postponed due to heavy rains and a leaky roof making the court unplayable.  The game will now be made up on Friday.  Depending on the standings this rescheduling could put the U.S. at a disadvantage for the Championship game as both Colombia and Martinique will have a rest day while the USA and Guatemala play.  Martinique beat Colombia 31-27 on Tuesday prior to the rain storm.

The USA team will include several of the players that competed in the Jr Championship last month in Paraguay.  This team narrowly missed out on qualification for the World Jr Championship so they should have a solid chance of winning this tournament for developing nations.  Martinique, which is a Department of France, however, has a strong handball tradition and could field a quality side.  For all we know, there could be a future Joel Abati, who was a mainstay on the French National Team for 14 years, playing for them. Colombia, as host, also should not be counted out particularly when playing in Tunja, which has an altitude of 9,200 ft.

USA Match Schedule (Revised)

Wednesday, 26 April, 1700 (Local), 1800 (EDST) USA vs Colombia
Thursday, 27 April, 1900 (Local), 2000 (EDST) USA vs Martinique
Friday, 28 April, 1500 (Local), 1600 (EDST) USA vs Guatemala
Saturday, 29 April, 1100 (Local), 1200 (EDST) Bronze Medal Game
Saturday, 29 April, 1500 (Local), 1600 (EDST) Gold Medal Game

Web Stream:  Link

IHF Trophy website: Link

PHF Competition website: Link

 

USA Heads into Final Day of Group Play Hoping for Chance to Play for 5th

Team USA on their rest day in Santiago, Chile

Team USA on their rest day in Santiago, Chile

The final day of group play is today and for the U.S. it’s all about finishing in 4th place and playing in the 5th-8th consolation bracket where they will have the opportunity to play for 5th place and qualification for the World Championships.  Currently the U.S. is in 5th place, level with Mexico on points, but in 5th due to a lower goal differential.  Mexico plays Paraguay in the first game and later in the day the U.S. plays Costa Rica.

Scenarios for the Final Day of Group Play

There are 3 likely scenarios regarding qualification.

The Simple Scenario:  If Mexico loses to Paraguay and the U.S. either wins or draws against Costa Rica, the U.S. will finish in 4th place.

Paraguay, Mexico and USA level on 4 points:  If Mexico beats Paraguay and the USA beats Costa Rica, Paraguay, Mexico and the U.S. would be level with 4 points apiece.  The first tiebreaker is points for games involving the 3 teams and each team will have 2 points for 1 win.  The next tiebreaker is goal differential and since the U.S. suffered a 14 goal loss to Paraguay the U.S. is in a big hole.  In fact, they would need Mexico to win by 26 in order not to finish last in the head to head standings for these 3 teams.  Translation: If Mexico beats Paraguay, the U.S. can’t realistically finish higher than 5th in the group. (UPDATE: Unfortunately, this scenario is now reality as Mexico beat Paraguay 29-22)

Mexico, USA and Costa Rica level on 2 points:  If Paraguay beats Mexico and the U.S. loses to Costa Rica, Mexico, the U.S. and Costa Rica would be level on 2 points.  Again, the tiebreaker would come down to Goal Differential amongst the 3 teams, but it gets a little more complicated.  Here’s who would advance as the fourth place team:

Costa Rica wins by 1:  USA and Mexico level on GD of -1; Total offensive goals is next tiebreaker.  If U.S. scores 23 goals vs Costa Rica, USA advances; 22 or less Mexico advances

Costa Rica wins by 2 or 3 goals:  Mexico advances

Costa Rica wins by 4 goals:  Costa Rica or Mexico advance based on total offensive goals

Costa Rica wins by 5 or more goals: Costa Rica advances.

Today’s Key Matches

Mexico and Paraguay play the first match (1200 Local, 1100 EDST), so the U.S. will know ahead of their game whether they are playing for 4th or not.  On paper, Paraguay is the better team based on their easy victory over the U.S., but Mexico has a much better overall goal differential having played more competitive games vs Brazil and Chile.

Costa Rica and the U.S. play the 3rd match (1600 Local, 1500 EDST).  The prospect of playing a Central American team at a handball tourney usually conjures up images of an easy victory against an undersized, inexperienced opponent. Having watched the Costa Rican team a bit, though, they look to have a side that is pretty athletic and mature.  Meaning that their U19 team is composed of players that appear to be 18 or 19 and taller than one might expect.  Also, of note, is they had a pretty competitive match vs Paraguay, losing 35-32.  With the biggest U.S. offensive output being 23 goals, a slower paced game might be preferred.

Live Stream:  Link

Standings and Results: Link

USA Secures First Tourney Win; Sets Sight on Playing for WC Qualification

USA celebrates after win against Mexico

USA celebrates after win against Mexico

 

The U.S. beat Mexico yesterday 23-21 to get its first victory at the Panamerican Youth Handball Championships.  Down 11-8 at the half the U.S. came storming out of the gate in the 2nd half to take a 14-13 lead in the first 10 minutes.  The U.S. never relinquished the lead and held on for the 23-21 victory.

Key to the U.S. success was the outstanding play of goalkeeper Rene Ingram who had numerous saves and was named man of the match.  Also, playing a big role were Paul Skorupa and William Kennedy.  Each had 6 goals as the U.S. had by far its best showing on offense with fewer turnovers and good ball movement that resulted in better opportunities to score.  Kennedy has emerged as a much needed additional scoring threat in the backcourt despite only starting his handball career last September.  He currently is a freshman at Texas A&M.

The U.S. will have an off day today and will sets it sights on qualification for the World Championship on Thursday.  There are several potential scenarios going into the last day of group play, but the best chance will involve a Mexico loss to Paraguay, coupled with a U.S. victory over winless Costa Rica.

On Demand Video: 1st half 2nd half

Standings and Results: Link