It tends to guarantee more excitement until the very end of the preliminary round, when one uses the format of the Youth World Championship, with only two teams from each group qualifying for quarterfinals. This compares with the format of four teams from each group qualifying for 1/8-finals as in the recent Junior Championship. However, today’s final matches in the groups became mostly anticlimactic, as the pairs of qualifiers where already known in three of the four groups.
Group A had a much more dramatic finish, where the Swedish team started the day with a slight edge over the three rivals from the Balkans. In the first game, Croatia and Serbia tied 22-22, which eliminated Serbia but left Croatia hoping for the ‘right’ result in the subsequent Sweden-Slovenia game. Sweden could here afford to lose by three goals and still win the group. They were behind by four goals late in the game but managed come back and tie the game at 30-30.
This means that Slovenia missed out on the quarterfinals in a dramatic fashion and just barely avoided sliding down to fourth place in the group. This almost happened, as Sweden missed a clear scoring chance in the final seconds. On the other hand, if Sweden had ‘refrained’ from scoring their last goal, they would have helped keep Slovenia in the semi-finals. Talk about intrigue! Sweden will now play against Egypt in one quarterfinal, while Croatia will face France, with these match-ups becoming clear after France defeated Egypt and won their group.
Germany and Denmark had already advanced from their group, just like Spain and Switzerland in the neighboring group. The Swiss coach indicated he desperately wanted to win against Spain, to avoid playing the supposedly superior German team next. The Swiss did their part by winning by one, after scoring five straight goals at the end! Denmark-Germany played their game immediately after the Spain-Switzerland game, so there was some speculation in the media that it would create an opportunity for some ‘gamesmanship’, in terms of being able to ‘choose’ the next opponent. Germany beat Denmark more easily than expected, after having pulled away early. This means that the remaining quarterfinals will now have Switzerland-Denmark and Spain-Germany. I can only hope that people will refrain from thinking that Denmark took it easy or that Spain somehow gave up towards the end….
The quarterfinals will be played on Wednesday, as will the first round of the placement matches for 9th-12th, 13th-16th and 17th-20th. Hosts Argentina, who had undoubtedly hoped to find themselves in the quarterfinals, will now have to fight for 9th place, initially by trying to beat Korea. The Koreans, who had earlier played Russia to a tie, in their final group game managed to edge the Russians in the ranking with one goal’s margin. The remaining combatants for the 9th place are Slovenia, and Brazil who managed to beat Qatar in the final group game despite a poor start. This sets up the possibility of an Argentina-Brazil battle for 9th (or 11th…) place; not great for PanAmerica, but at least a little bit better than in the Junior World Championship.
This means that Russia finds themselves, just like recently at the Junior event, in the bottom region, something that cannot be very reassuring during a period when their senior national team is well below their usual level. Tunisia came in last in their group, a sharp contrast to the superb performance of their team in the Junior category. Should we expect a strong fight between Gabon and New Zealand in an effort to avoid the very last place of the Championship?
Finally, there seems to a widespread view that Argentina has done very well as an organizer of this event. In fact, there are reports that they feel so encouraged by the experience that they may want to apply for the right to host another World Championship soon again. Similarly, there are some unconfirmed rumors that Canada might be bidding for the opportunity to host the Men’s Youth Championship in 2013.