World Championship: no real spark yet, except for Brazilian comeback against France

Chana Masson - incredible 67% save rate against France

Unless one is a fanatic follower of one particular team, chances are that the Women’s World Championship has failed to generate a lot of enthusiasm in the early going. Thanks to numerous media reports in participating countries, and especially through high-quality broadcasts provided by on the internet, I have been able to follow developments quite well, and in my opinion the event seems a bit ‘flat’ compared with the Women’s Championship two years ago. To some extent, this had been anticipated, due to the unusually large number of top players who are missing, either due to injuries or because the simply did not want to participate.

But the pressure on the women’s players does not seem to be much recognized by the IHF (or the EHF for that matter). It is easy to organize conferences and talk, talk, talk about what needs to be done to get the women’s handball to catch up with the men’s side. But action somehow seems more difficult. While arrangements were reached to provide compensation for the release of players and insurance coverage for possible injuries, in connection with the Men’ Championship last January, the IHF Executive quite demonstratively ruled against such measures for this Women’s Championship. It seems the clubs and the federations have to protest more loudly…

A further reason for the lack of excitement is predictability in most groups and many individual games, due to the large number of mediocre teams mostly from non-European countries. The global competitiveness does not yet match that on the men’s side. And the system used this time, having the initial group play followed directly by 1/8-finals, instead of the approach with Main Round groups, may well backfire. After a number of boring group matches, I think people will miss the chance to see a large number of really competitive matches in a Main Round.

But there are some exceptions from the predictability and boredom. Group A in Santos has really been hard to figure out. Prior to the final day, only China is out of the running, but the Chinese have swung between 1-goal losses and disastrous 27-goal deficits. The other teams seem capable of beating each other without any logic. While Norway and Montenegro are through, Angola and Germany have a vital game tomorrow, and Iceland should have a good chance of advancing.

In the other groups, there tend to be clear separations between top and bottom. In Group B, Russia seems to live to up their role as favorites and Spain have done well. Korea will advance but it does not look like the dominant team of recent decades. In Group D, the European powers of Croatia, Denmark and Sweden are sorting out the top three places. Not unexpectedly, Argentina and Uruguay find themselves at the bottom. So it may well be that Cuba in Group C is in fact the second-best PanAmerican team.

But Cuba still is way behind Brazil. As I have noted earlier, they are quite realistically a medal candidate, or even a team for the final if they can avoid having Russia in their path. The experience gained through club play in Europe, together with a very systematic build-up has led to an ability to handle tough situations from both a mental and a tactical standpoint. Romania is the team that has suffered the most from injuries, and it is not clear just how good the French are this time. But they did have a seven-goal half-time lead before Brazil, led by their goalkeeper, closed things down in an absolutely amazing second half. This certainly looks promising for the home team!