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Now they know
Published in Ahram Online on 08 - 09 - 2020

Finally, and after months of anticipation, the participating teams at the Men's Handball World Championship were introduced to their group opponents when the draw was held in Cairo on Saturday at the Giza Pyramids Plateau.
As hosts, Egypt had the right to choose which group it would be drawn into, and selected Group G, with Sweden, the Czech Republic and a qualifier from The Americas.
The preliminary round features eight groups of four teams each. The top three teams from each group will advance to the main round, where they will be divided into four groups of six teams each.
The top-two teams from each group will then advance to the quarterfinals.
Debutants Uruguay and Cape Verde find themselves in a tough Group A, with European sides Germany and Hungary, both of whom finished inside the top 10 at the 2020 Men's EHF EURO.
Group B saw the very first team drawn, wild card side Poland, who won bronze at the 2015 IHF Men's World Championship. It faces Spain, whom they beat in that match, alongside Tunisia and Brazil. Poland will co-host the 2023 IHF Men's World Championship with Sweden.
Just one European side is in Group C – continental silver medallists Croatia who will face 2020 Olympic Games hosts Japan, Angola and Asian champions Qatar.
Another debutant, DR Congo, goes up against Bahrain, who recently announced the German Michael Roth as their new coach, current world champions Denmark, and Argentina in Group D.
A rematch of the 2017 IHF Men's World Championship final between France and Norway is guaranteed in Group E, with the two sides joined by Austria and a qualifier from the North America and the Caribbean Handball Confederation (NACHC).
Group F sees Morocco and Algeria meet again after the Algerians beat their North African rivals – and neighbours – at the 2020 CAHB Men's African Championship in Tunisia in January. They are joined by European sides Portugal, who return to the World Championship for the first time since 2003, and 2008 Olympic Games bronze medallists Iceland.
The one nation which knows what it is like to win an IHF Men's World Championship in EgyptSweden, in 1999 – is in Group G, where the 2023 IHF Men's World Championship joint hosts will face the 2021 hosts Egypt, Czech Republic – returning to the World Championship for the first time since 2005 – and the South and Central America qualifier winner, to be known in November.
The final group, Group H, features another wild card – Russia – who lost that final in 1999. It goes up against 2017 IHF Men's World Championship bronze medallists Slovenia, Asian runners-up Republic of Korea and 10th-place finisher at the EURO 2020, Belarus.
According to the IHF, the Egypt 2021 match schedule will be released in due time.
The 27th edition of the championship – the first to be played with 32 teams – will take place in Egypt from 13 to 31 January 2021 at four venues: the Cairo Stadium Indoor Hall, the New Administrative Capital Hall, the 6th of October Hall and the Borg Al-Arab Hall.
The draw was a star-studded event in front of the spectacular Giza Pyramids and Sphinx where guests were treated to a wide variety of entertainment along with the unveiling of the championship's mascot, Horus.
The ceremony was attended by Egypt's Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli, Youth and Sports Minister Ashraf Sobhi and International Handball Federation (IHF) President Hassan Mustafa, in addition to other ministers and top officials of state as well as public and sports figures and dignitaries.
Mascot unveile
IHF Commission of Organising and Competition (COC) Chairperson Per Bertelsen and IHF Competitions Director Patric Strub conducted the draw, assisted by senior Egypt players Ali Zein and captain Ahmed Al-Ahmar, and Egypt's 2019 IHF Men's Youth World Championship winners, goalkeeper Abdel-Rahman Homayed and Hassan Kaddah.
Madbouli thanked Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for giving the green light to host the 27th edition of the IHF Men's Handball World Championship despite the coronavirus challenges facing the entire world.
“I am happy with hosting this big event in Egypt as it's the first time it is being played with 32 national teams,” Madbouli said during his speech ahead of the draw.
“Egypt faces a big challenge in hosting such a championship because of the coronavirus pandemic but we accepted the challenge,” the Egyptian prime minister added.
“Organising such an international-level event is a great achievement. Through the World Championship, Egypt will be sending a message of peace to the whole world, as sports has always played an instrumental role in bringing people together.
“This tournament is a collective effort by all Egyptian institutions and organisations and I hope the event will be as worthy as Egypt's name and reputation.
“I welcome all participants and visitors who will be attending the main event in January,” Madbouli added.
IHF President Mustafa thanked the Egyptian government for hosting the championship.
“It is my pleasure to be here among you to celebrate the draw ceremony. I also want to express my gratitude to the government of Egypt for accepting the challenge and hosting this event,” he said in his opening remarks. Mustafa also revealed that he had invited the president of the International Olympic Committee Thomas Bach to attend the World Championship in Egypt and that he had accepted the invitation. “Nowadays, we live amid the coronavirus pandemic and it is not over yet and nobody knows when it will end. Therefore, we have no choice but to adapt and live with the current situation,” Mustafa said.
“We will consider and apply all the necessary medical measures to ensure the safety of everyone. These measures will be applied as of the arrival of the teams and until their departure back home to their countries,” the IHF president said, adding, “the draw is just a warm-up for what is coming next for Egypt in organising the championship itself.
The draw
“Egypt has huge experience in hosting many major international and world championships in various sports, not only handball. It is capable of organising any major sports event and there is no doubt of its success in hosting Egypt 2021. This is for sure,” Mustafa said.
Goalkeeper Homayed, gold medallist at the 2019 World Youth Championship, said after assisting in the draw procedures: “Choosing to play with Sweden in the group is good thinking as we believe we have been on the same level in the past years and sometimes we have the advantage.
“Being named as the best goalkeeper at the 2019 World Youth Championship is just a step towards what I dream of and is not the end of my ambitions,” Homayed said.
Teammate Kaddah added, “I wish to see a full house at the World Championship. We are counting on the spectators' support as we are used to. It will have a positive impact on the team.
“Despite winning the World Youth title, playing the Men's Championship for the first time and at home is totally a different story.”
After the Czech Republic was drawn in the same group with hosts Egypt, coach Jan Filip revealed that he expects a tough mission in the tournament in January with two big names like Egypt and Sweden.
“To face the championship's hosts is always attractive as our game will witness a huge number of spectators but it will be an important game,” Filip was quoted as saying on the Czech Handball Federation's official website following the draw.
“Sweden is a strong team as we failed to beat them in Qatar 2015 but the coming meeting will be different,” the Czech Republic tactician added.
“I think we will play our games at Cairo International stadium after Egypt chose to be in our group as the fans who will attend the games will be Egyptians so the game is expected to be tough.”
“In mid-January everything will be different if the tournament is held as scheduled. I am sure that the organisers will do their best to make the tournament safe (medically),” Filip said.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 September, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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