Women’s PanAmerican Championship – the groups are decided

Expect excitement when the women's PanAmerican event comes up in June

Expect excitement when the women’s PanAmerican event comes up in June

This championship tournament will be played in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, during the period June 1-8. Accordingly, the draw was held there this morning. Because of Brazil’s favorable placement in the most recent World Championship, PanAmerica is now entitled to field FOUR participants in the next World Championship in Serbia in December this year. This means that there is perhaps more importance than usual attached to the draw, as the top two teams in each group of five will already be qualified for the World Championship, regardless of what subsequently happens in the semi-finals and the medal games.

It seems that this Women’s PanAmerican Championship has already caused some controversy at the qualifying stage. With the new format recently adopted by PATHF, there should now be a ‘guarantee’ for a more serious competition for the slots among the North and Caribbean countries (NorCa). Seven teams would normally be eligible to compete for four slots in the PanAmerican event, although this time one of the slots was already set aside for the hosts from the Dominican Republic. However, it gradually became clear that neither Cuba, nor Greenland would try to qualify. Economic realities undoubtedly had a lot to do with that.

But when it was announced, far too late, that Puerto Rico also would refrain from participating, then it left precisely four teams eligible for the four slots, so the idea of a qualifying tournament became meaningless. The problem was, however, that the Puerto Rican decision came so late that the other teams were all set to travel, in some cases having already spent money on the tickets. Apparently, PATHF has now belatedly realized that this is intolerable, and tangible punishment has been introduced.

In the south, there was also an impression of seemingly strange rules for the qualifying. But the principle is that the ‘big five’ (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay) compete for four slots, while one slot is set aside for the emerging handball countries. So this caused Chile to be eliminated, even though they beat Venezuela in the qualifying event that combined both the big and the emerging nations.

For the draw, it was obvious that Brazil and Argentina would be in the top performance row. Similarly, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic were put in the second row and Mexico together with Venezuela in the third row, on account of their positions in the most recent PATHF women’s championship. The remaining four teams did not participate then, and they appear to have been seeded on the basis of earlier participation, with Canada and USA in the fourth row, leaving Paraguay and Costa Rica for the lowest category. Rows 5, 4, 3 and 1 would be drawn first, and then the Dominican Republic would have the established host prerogative of choosing one of the two groups.

It would seem that, in the third row, Mexico would be a more difficult opponent than Venezuela. In the fourth row, I would not even venture a guess as between USA and Canada, especially without knowing what kind of team USA will be able to field. In the fifth row, Paraguay undoubtedly would the strongest, but probably not good enough to compete seriously for a semifinal spot. Similarly, it might matter less if the hosts, or any other team, would find themselves paired with Brazil or Argentina, as both these two teams would seem safe bets to advance. So one could speculate that the Dominican Republic might avoid the group with Mexico, but perhaps they instead had some suspicions about problems against Paraguay or Canada, because they did choose the group with Mexico, USA and Costa Rica. This group also includes Brazil, which probably will the opponent for USA in the very first round. The complete draw:

Group A: Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico, USA and Costa Rica

Group B: Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Canada and Paraguay

Again, the top two teams in each group qualify for the World Championship. It is hard to be optimistic from a USA perspective. Mexico will be tough enough, but I would certainly have preferred Uruguay instead of having to face the physically strong home team, who obviously will also have a lot of crowd support.