Championships in Africa and Europe: ‘Déjà vu’ all over again…

The Algerians celebrate the victory of their men's team

The Algerians celebrate the victory of their men’s team


When a few days ago I predicted that Croatia, Denmark, France and Spain would move through to the semifinals, I was almost hoping that I would be wrong. An event needs some surprises to have real spark, but no other team was capable of causing any upsets towards the end. Poland came back from a weak start in the tournament, but it was not enough. In the fifth place game they lost against Iceland, who confirmed their remarkable ability to stay in the top group year after year. Sweden collapsed in the key games, and the young Russian team did not have the power and experience to make it all the way.

So in the semifinals, we had some rather thrilling match-ups, with Denmark being pressed by Croatia but holding on for a 29-27 win. The Croatians complained about everything being orchestrated to ensure a Danish win. Perhaps the Croatians have forgotten about the World Championship 2009 when they were the hosts and everyone else complained in the same way; not to mention 2007 in Germany which was even more flagrant. That is, whether we like it or not, part of the home court advantage. In the other semi-final we saw a real ‘roller coaster’, with France prevailing 30-27 against Spain. The bronze medal game was the usual kind of anticlimactic affair, with Spain finding slightly more inspiration and winning 29-28.

But who had expected that the final, in front of a fanatic Danish crowd, would become even more anticlimactic? And that we would have ‘déjà vu’ not just in the sense that the French would win their third European title, but that the Danes would collapse in much the same way they did in the World Championship final in Spain last year!? France pulled away with a 13-4 lead en route to a 23-16 half-time result. At that point, they had scored 23 goals on 26 shots, whereas the Danish attack looked desperate and unimaginative. The second half saw France play tactically smart, keeping the lead to between six and ten goals. In the end, all the back-up players got their chance to be on the court, and the result was 41-32 at the final whistle.

Referees in the final were Raluy/Sabroso from Spain, who had their international break-through three years ago when handling the World Championship final in Sweden. As I saw a former colleague put it in an interview: “they may not make fewer mistakes than other couples, but their style and personality make them more convincing”. Yes, a big part of the referee job is indeed to ‘sell’ your ability and your decisions!

In terms of qualifying for the World Championship in Qatar 2015, all the four teams in the medal games are now qualified. Nine slots remain for Europe, and in the draw for the ‘one-on-one’ qualification battles we got some really intriguing match-ups! The referees will really come under pressure in many cases. What do you think about Poland vs. Germany, or Greece vs. FYR Macedonia, or Hungary vs. Slovenia, and even Russia vs. Lithuania!? The other games may not be such ‘hot potatoes’ from a geopolitical standpoint, but there are no really easy ones among Austria-Norway, Romania-Sweden, Serbia-Czech Rep., Montenegro-Belarus, and Bosnia/Herzegovina-Iceland.


In Africa, the outcome was, if anything, even more predictable in terms of qualifying for the 2015 World Championships. Perhaps it was not so obvious that Algeria’s men would come out of top, ahead of Tunisia and Egypt, but surely these were the three favorites. Angola was the remaining semi-finalist. Among the women, we will see exactly the same three representatives from Africa in the 2015 World Championship as in 2013. But it may have been a bit of a surprise that Tunisia would be the winner, ahead of Dem. Rep. of Congo and Angola. The key here was a dramatic overtime win in the semifinal for Tunisia over Angola. The home team Algeria was the remaining semi-finalist.