Algeria shocks Egypt, removing their chances for the Olympics

Proud Algerians qualify for the final

The semifinals for both men and women were played today. On the men’s side, most people expected to see Egypt and Tunisia move on to the final ‘as usual’. And even the format of the Championship seemed to support that. After Egypt and Algeria had battled to a draw when playing in the same group, today they met again in the semi-final under a schedule that seemed designed to keep Egypt and Tunisia apart until the final.

BUT, there will be no such final. Algeria managed to win 26-25, despite a 12-14 deficit at half-time. So Algeria showed that the 34-34 in the group game was not a fluke. There is now absolute euphoria in Algerian handball circles, judging from their main handball web sites.

While Egypt and Tunisia have recently been the main rivals in men’s handball, perhaps the most intense rivalry in sports general, and certainly in football, is precisely Egypt-Algeria. In 2009, there were riots, literally, when they had to play each other in play-off games for the World Cup in football. It led to diplomatic tensions, and Egypt backed out as a host of the 2010 African Championship in handball rather than having to host the Algerian team. And the history of tension in sports goes back much further and is too long to explain here.

One would imagine that there is now a state of shock in Egyptian handball. It would have been bad enough to lose in the final and have to play in one of the qualifying groups for the Olympics, but one doubts that they had expected to miss out completely on the chance to be in the Olympics. For many years, Egyptians have had their faith in handball as the sport that one day would give them an Olympic medal in a team sport. It seems likely that Egypt will still be able to win the bronze medal game against Morocco and thereby qualify for the 2013 World Championships, but that will not provide much consolation.

On the women’s side, we will tomorrow see the expected final between the perennial winner Angola and the up-and-coming Tunisians. The latter beat Algeria 27-24 in a tight game, while the Angolan women crushed the Democratic Republic of Congo, 39-19. So Angola and Tunisia will fight for the direct tickets to London. In the perhaps unlikely event that Tunisia would win, then the Angolans would get a special slot in a qualifying tournament on account of their ranking in the recent World Championships , and it seems that the bronze medal winner would then get Africa’s ‘number two’ slot in the qualifying.