When the group with the three most recent world champions (France, Germany and Spain) was referred to as the ‘group of death’, this was partly because it was furthermore believed that Tunisia and/or Egypt might be strong enough to surprise one of the three favorites. It turned out, however, that both of these North African teams played below their recent standard, something that may well have rescued the feeble German team from even greater embarrassment.
Perennially among the key players on the Tunisian team, Megannem was this time unable to impress, and Tej had become a heavy and immobile version of his past figure. The team played inconsistently and without real cohesiveness, despite drawing on many players with substantial club handball experience from abroad. Egypt seemed listless and without their typical fighting spirit. There were comments to the effect that the very late decision to bring back the German coach Lommel had led to confusion and divisiveness. I cannot remember having seen such an unimpressive Egyptian team for many, many years.
I happened to witness the game between these two teams. These rivalries are unpredictable: sometimes they offer very exciting spectacles but sometimes they are very disappointing. This time it was about as bad as it can get. The teams seemed to compete with each other not to win the game but to give it away. Tunisia seemed to have a solid lead, mostly because the Egyptians were so error-prone. But then suddenly Tunisia lost their thread completely, and within 12 minutes Egypt scored 9-0. After that, Tunisia more or less seemed to give up. And the usual tendency to cause a lot of stoppages by being down on the floor in exaggerated pain was worse than ever. At times it was really anti-handball.
I did not have many opportunities to talk with my old acquaintances on the two teams and delegations. And I did not want to get much involved with delicate matters. But ‘off the record’ I got unsolicited comments from Tunisians along the lines: “surely you appreciate that, while we try to concentrate, our thoughts are really elsewhere at this point in time”. And an Egyptian comment suggested that they had indeed had occasion to discuss a bit with their brethren, even though nothing overt had yet taken place in Egypt at that moment. One cannot escape the sense, however, that this group of Egyptians, like perhaps the broader population, was ‘seeing the writing on the wall’ and was beginning to worry about what might happen.
Let us hope that in future international events the two teams will come back to old form and with a new spirit of pride and determination. And more important than what might happen on the handball courts, let us be optimistic that the evolution will turn out to be what our many friends in these two proud countries are hoping for!