(Note: Puerto Rico is 3rd due to head to head victory over Mexico)
Canada and Puerto Rico secured victories on the final day of competition to secure 2nd and 3rd place respectively and to qualify for the Pan American Championships in Greenland. Canada held off the U.S. for a 33-31 victory. At one point in the second half the U.S. led 24-22, but Canada was able to rally and secure the victory. Puerto Rico beat hosts Mexico 30-28. Puerto Rico was able to control the tempo of the match, avoiding the helter skelter style of play Mexico prefers and was able to keep the crowd out of the game. Cuba beat the Dominican Republic 40-20 in a game that had no bearing on qualification.
Top Level Assessment
Overall: While this tournament was still technically an event under the old Pan American Team Handball Federation (PATHF) in many respects it was the first ever event of the new North American & Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC). With 6 nations participating, including an often absent Cuba, it felt like more of a Championship. And, with 3 spots on the line for qualification to the Pan American Championships there was more to play for with real consequences. I say this in that sometimes NORCA events have had 4 nations fighting for 3 spots.
The level of play is clearly a rung or two below South America, but was very competitive. Really, as evidenced by the match scores there’s not a whole lot separating teams 2-6. The largest margin of victory among the bottom 5 teams was 6 goals and even in those 2 contests the matches were closer than the score indicates. 2nd Place Canada squeaked out a 1 goal victory over 6th place Dominican Republic. 4th place Mexico played to 3 draws. Yes, every team that played in that tournament can go home thinking they could have qualified if they had just done one or two things differently.
Going forward one can envision a competitive 8 Nation Championship. Greenland, which didn’t participate because it’s hosting the Pan American Championship, might well have won the event. Then add one more Caribbean team to round out the field. Yes, a nice little tournament today and one that would get better as the nations further develop their programs.
Cuba: This tournament provided a taste of what Cuba might have in terms of a national team. I say a “taste” because I don’t think that Cuba did a very good job of integrating their professionals playing in Europe with their younger talent still on the island. Still, they had talent to spare and that’s why despite inconsistent play they were the class of the field.
Canada: A very workmanlike and consistent performance by the Canadian side resulted in their 2nd place finish. Canada doesn’t have the most athletic team, but they are pretty solid technically and this paid dividends towards the end of several close matches. They kept their cool and let their opponents make mistakes. And, as anyone who follows handball knows that’s often the difference between 2 goal losses and 2 goal wins.
Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico clearly wins the comeback award. They started poorly with losses to Canada and Cuba. Then played a draw to the Dominican Republic- the Dominican Republic’s only point in the tournament. But, they still controlled their own destiny and had solid convincing wins against both the U.S. and Mexico to qualify. They’ve got a couple of very talented players to build around. And build they must as from what I observed they lack depth.
Mexico: Mexico may have one of the best fast breaking teams in the tournament, but they lacked discipline in the half court game. As the host nation, they surely will look upon three draws as all games they could have won. And, all they needed to qualify was just 1 more point.
USA: A disappointing finish for the U.S. I’ll have more to say in a separate commentary
Dominican Republic: The Dominican Republic certainly has some athletes, but was very inconsistent on offense and defense. They show signs of promise, but need more match experience to get better.
Tuesday April 3
Puerto Rico 27×31 Canada
United States 30×41 Cuba
Mexico 33×28 Dominican Republic
Wednesday April 4
Cuba 36×23 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 26×32 United States
Canada 26×26 Mexico
Thursday April 5
Puerto Rico 29×29 Dominican Republic
Canada 24×27 Cuba
Mexico 30×30 the United States
Saturday April 7
United States 28×34 Puerto Rico
Dominican Republic 21×22 Canada
Mexico 28×28 Cuba
Sunday April 8
United States 31x33vs Canada
Cuba 40×20 Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico 30×28 Mexico