Itajaí Handball Cup Brazil

I've just returned from the 2006 version of the [link=]international handball tournament in Itajaí[/link], Brazil. This fantastic tournament is, to my knowledge, the only week-long, one-game-a-day tournament for club teams. For all other competitions like that, you need to be member of a National Team.
It was a fantastic tournament with 78 teams of all age groups (male & female). Despite our small and very diverse roster, we managed to secure bronze, in an unexpected and outstanding team effort!
The tournament takes place in the Brazilian summer and sports not only indoor handball but also a very well-organized beach handball tournament. The level of play varies quite a bit as most teams do not field their standard roster from the preceding season. A good estimat is that the level of play is about 4th division in Germany, with a variation of one level up or down. Individual players may have a much lower or higher level, though. In total, the level is significantly higher than that of, e.g. US Nationals.
There are more pictures of this and the previous tournaments on [link=]my image gallery[/link].

The first two games were against the later finalists, the home team of Itajaí (9th of the past Brazilian div. 1 season) and the team from Unisuam, Rio de Janeiro (second Brasilian division), each of the teams sporting former and current Brazilian National Team members. Each of the games were 2x20min. Expectedly, we lost to both teams by significant margins. The game against Itajaí ended 21-14 and the one against Unisuam was lost also by 7 goals, 15-8). The final group game against Sao Paulo would decide if we had a shot at the semi-finals or play for 7th place. We beat the physically stronger team by only one goal 19-18 and went on to the cross-over game against Florianópolis (2nd of the other bracket). A young, fast-running team with their strongest player in a junior NT left back. However, the team apparently underestimated us, saving their best player for the anticipated semi-finals until about 10-15 minutes before the end of the game. By that time, we had a firm grip on the game and went to the semi-finals. The game ended 16-12.
The semi-finals were on the same day as the cross-over game and against the number one team from our group, Unisuam, who had beaten Itajaí in the group games. Even rested, we probably wouldn't have a chance against this team and with the cross-over game just 2-3h behind us, the match was no match at all. Notable in this game was a series of dubious referee calls in the last minutes against us, leading to Unisuam intentionally missing all their last shots in rejection of what even they saw as unfair calls in their favor. Unisuam was by far the most sympathetic team, on and off the court, not only because of this demonstration of fair-play!
In the bronze medal game, we faced the second team from Rio de Janeiro. They had won the other bracket and lost to Itajaí by one goal in overtime in the semi-finals – despite being one man short because of work commitment of some of their players! So we were warned that this would be a hard team to beat, even one man down. Their consistent 1.95m backcourt surely was physically impressive!
However, the team seemed to still be tired from th semi-final. After 4 successive post-shots from their backcourt players, only the goalie kept fighting. Past-season's Most Valuable Goalie of Brazil elminated one wing shot after the other from our 17-year-old wing players, even from very good angles. However, in the end, even he resigned and we won the bronze by a safe margin.
The successful team. Upper row from left: Diana Pauly (PT), Björn Brembs, Olaf Degen (both VfL Lichtenrade, Germany), Alexander Schmidt and coach Horia Markel (both HSC Bad Neustadt, Germany).
Lower row from the left: Arthur Tenorio Bibeiro Clark, (17-year-old Brazilian player who helped us out), Michael Deller, Florian Kirchner, Florian Demling (all HSC Bad Neustadt, Germany) and Silvio Alvin Soares de Laureano (Sao Caetano, Brazil).