USA Women with Great Draw for Pan American Championships

Obama:  And can you do anything for us vis a vis the upcoming Pan American Championship? Castro:  I'll see what I can do.

Obama: And can you do anything for us vis a vis the upcoming Pan American Team Handball Championship?
Castro: I’ll see what I can do.

Yesterday the Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) conducted the draw for the Women’s Pan American Championship that will be held next month in Havana. A combination of luck and generosity resulted in probably the best conceivable draw possible for the USA Women.

Initial Draw- Paired with Cuba

PATHF competition regulations call for draw performance rows to be based on the results of the previous championship. 7 nations participated in the 2013 Championships resulting in the following performance rows

– Brazil-Argentina
– Paraguay-Uruguay
– Mexico-Venezuela

The remaining 5 teams (Cuba, Chile, Venezuela, Greenland and Puerto Rico) were then drawn randomly to fill out the remaining performance rows. And, as luck would have it the U.S. received the very best possible result, getting paired with Cuba and thus not having to face a team that recently beat them 35-15 at the NORCA Championships.

Cuba Chooses a Tougher Path

But, while it was fortunate to be paired with Cuba and avoid them in Group Play in all likelihood the U.S. could anticipate ending up in a tough group. This is because Cuba as the host nation gets to select which group it prefers after the other 5 performance rows have been drawn. The results of the draw were

Group A
Brazil- 1st at 2014 South American Games and current World Champion
Paraguay- 5th at 2014 South American Games
Venezuela- 7th at 2013 Pan American Championship
Puerto Rico- 5th at 2015 North American & Caribbean
Greenland- 4th at 2015 North American & Caribbean

Group B
Argentina- 2nd at 2014 South American Games
Uruguay- 4th at 2014 South American Games
Mexico- 2nd at 2015 North American & Caribbean
Guatemala- 1st at 2014 Central American Championship
Chile- 3rd at 2014 South American Games

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to immediately conclude that Group A would be a far easier path towards a semifinal berth and World Championship qualification. Beating Brazil would be a tough ask, but Cuba surely would make short work of the remaining competition in that Group. But, apparently Cuba was not looking for an easy ticket as they selected Group B. As Ruben Gomez speculates at Mundo Handball, Cuba apparently would prefer to size up their squad relative to their competition at the PANAM Games later this summer. And as fate would have it Group B provided Cuba with that opportunity as it had all 3 teams (Argentina, Uruguay and Chile) Cuba will meet in Toronto during Group Play.

Team USA with a Great Opportunity

The end result of avoiding Cuba and then having Cuba choose a tougher path presents a tremendous opportunity for the U.S. to qualify for the World Championship.   In fact, it’s probably the best possible draw imaginable.   Arguably, based on recent results, 5 of the top 6 teams in PATHF are crammed into Group B. The U.S. avoids 3 teams (Cuba, Mexico, Uruguay) they recently lost to, plus Argentina and Chile, 2 teams that qualified directly for the PANAM Games by defeating Uruguay.

Instead, the U.S. gets to take on 2 teams they’ve recently beaten (Puerto Rico and Greenland) and Paraguay and Venezuela, 2 teams probably similar, maybe even slightly below Uruguay in terms of quality. The U.S. has not played Paraguay recently, but Paraguay finished a rung below Uruguay at the 2014 South American Games. The U.S. did lose to Venezuela at the 2013 Pan American Championships, 36-29, but the U.S. has improved since then while Venezuela hasn’t played as much internationally.

It’s a foregone conclusion that Brazil will win Group A, but the U.S. is clearly in the mix for a semifinal berth and a potential World Championship ticket.  Many thanks to Cuba for extending that warming of relations with the U.S. to the Handball World.