Some comments on the draw for the World Championship

Of course, we will have many months to speculate about the possible outcome of the men's World Championship in January. But it has been interesting to following the reactions to the draw in some of the top countries. Some strong reactions were inevitable. Some of the top coaches had been interviewed in advance and, for tactical reasons, they preferred to downplay the importance of the draw. But now when the results are known, it is impossible to conceal some reactions. The Nordic countries and the top Balkan countries will perhaps disagree, but it is hard to deny that France (2009 World Champions), Germany (2007 Champions), and Spain (2005 Champions) must be counted among the absolute favorites in every Championship. It was known that these three teams were seeded in the first, third and second category respectively, but the chance that the three would be drawn into the same group was only 1 in 16; nevertheless, this is exactly what happened!

To make things worse, if one wanted to add a combination of 4th and 5th seeded teams to this group, it is hard to imagine a more difficult one than Tunisia and Egypt. These are always tough and demanding opponents also for the very best teams. One can imagine that the face of the IHF President gradually started to take on a more and more horrified look for every team that was added to Egypt's group. And I do not envy the task of my old colleagues in the Rules & Refereeing Commission who will have to figure out the best referee nominations for the matches in this group. I still remember, with some pain, the difficulties in 2007, when precisely France, Germany and Spain ended up on the same half in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Well, there will surely be time for further speculation as it gets closer, but one could already now state that it would no longer be a world sensation if one of the three most recent champions failed to go beyond the preliminary round!

On the same half as this 'group of death' is a group headed by Iceland. This group is likely to have many close and interesting battles, with teams such as Norway, Austria and Hungary. These teams must sense that it is not good enough to advance; surely they need to bring a few points with them before the encounter the top teams from the neighboring group. If not, the chances for medals are likely to be remote.. Brazil and Japan are good enough to cause a surprise in some match, but will they really be strong enough to advance? Perhaps this will be Brazil's best chance in a long while to move closer to the top.

Sweden will not be the only home team in the preliminary round. While Denmark might grumble about having to face not just Croatia but also the always dangerours Serbs and the now again emerging Romanians. surely they must be pleased with an arrangement that allows them to count of thousands and thousands of loud Danish supporters in every game. (In fact, this may carry over and become a real battle in the main round in a potential game against Sweden in Malmo). The Malmo Arena holds about 12.500 spectators. I just wonder how many of those tickets that the Danes will be able to get hold of… And they will have some competition, because there are many Croats and Serbs among the local immigrants in southern Sweden, and these countries also tend to have busloads of faithful supporters making the trip to every major championship. Let us hope it will not occur to them to bring vuvuzelas… The Algerians may be good enough to cause some occasional upset, but their chances of advancing do not look too good.

Chile will be able to count on some spectator support in their first appearance in a men's championship. They have many ex-compatriots living for decades in Sweden, but it is not probable that it will help a lot. Argentina will be somewhat more likely to create difficulties for some opponent. As always, it is hard to predict just how strong the Korean men's team will turn out to be; they are not quite as reliable as their female counterparts. Similarly, Slovakia is a relative newcomer at this level but should not be underestimated. Nevertheless, Sweden and Poland must be seen as the favorites in this group and, without offendng anyone, it was not surprising that the Swedes chose this group considering the alternatives.

John Ryan and I will be back in due course with our more specific predictions. And perhaps we will find a way to have our readers brought into a competition with us. Be prepared!

Here is a link to the page from the official World Championship web site that provides the detailed match schedule for the preliminary round: