Egypt, Argentina and Brazil’s Junior teams have clearly shown that they are on a par with the traditional European powers at the IHF Junior World Championships currently ongoing in Egypt. All three teams did well in preliminary group play and have advanced to the Main Round joining 9 other teams from Europe. As host, Egypt was expected to advance, but Argentina and Brazil’s performance has been at least a mild surprise. Although, some would argue that Argentina’s strong performance is proof that their 4th place at the Under 19’s 2 years ago was no fluke. Argentina’s big win was a 25-24 edging of Germany while Brazil humbled France 33-25. Most of the French roster consists of players playing in the French Professional league, arguably the 3rd best league in the world, which suggests that Brazil’s current player development is on a par with the French. Argentina, Brazil and Egypt each took 2 points with them into the main round, so each also has a realistic chance to make it to the semifinals.
The sole North American representative, Greenland has struggled so far only pulling out a narrow victory against Libya. They also suffered narrow losses to minor European handball nations Estonia and the Netherlands. But despite their disappointment as this IHF report http://www.ihf.info/front_content.php?idcat=319&idart=2103 indicates, they continue to impress attendees with their fan support.
Commentary: Argentina and Brazil’s success at this tournament is a very stark reminder of the challenge the U.S. faces in the Pan American region. It’s a pretty safe bet that these two teams of under 21’s would have little trouble in dispatching any team (regardless of age) the U.S. could put together right now. In all likelihood the South American teams consist of players who have been honing their skills in the sport for several years. While the U.S. is taking practical steps to boost grassroots programs it’s going to take awhile to build the type of structure that will field a competitive under 21 team.
It’s too bad Greenland hasn’t performed better at the tournament. I’m guessing that they simply lack depth beyond, Angutimmarik Kreutzmann, who impressed me 2.5 years ago when he led the senior team in scoring at the Senior World Championships. Just being there is a victory for Greenland, though, as two years ago they were denied the opportunity to participate when the PATHF arbitrarily downgraded their membership and prevented them from qualifying.
IHF: Preliminary Round summary: http://wchjunior09egy.ihf.info/exchange/egy/pdf/SUMMARY.pdf
THN (January 2007) Greenland Handball (A National Passion): http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?item.254
THN (April 2007): Why the Recent Downgrading of Greenland’s PATHF Membership Status is Wrong: http://teamhandballnews.com/news.php?extend.312
IHF: Hot atmosphere from the cold North – Greenland’s fan are celebrating with their team: http://www.ihf.info/front_content.php?idcat=319&idart=2103