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Dismissed out of hand
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 02 - 2003

Egyptian handball dropped out of the top 10, finishing in 15th place in the World Handball Championship. Inas Mazhar covers the dramatic plunge
Egypt only won two games in Portugal, drawing in one and losing four in the seven games it played in the 15-day event. In the first round, Egypt beat Slovenia and Brazil, drew with Algeria and lost to Sweden, Denmark, Croatia and Russia.
In the tournament, Egyptian handball lost more than its touch. It came in 15th place, a far cry from its fourth place showing in France two years ago.
The 15th place finish also prevented Egypt from qualifying for the 2005 World Championship in Tunisia and next year's Olympic Games in Athens. For the first time in 12 years, Egypt will have to go through qualifications if it wants to make an appearance in both championships.
The result was the poorest yet for the Egyptians who started participating in the championships first in Sweden in 1993. There, they took 11th place out of 12 teams. In Iceland in 1995, the country jumped to sixth.
Egypt also placed sixth in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta and in the World Championship in Japan one year later. The year 1999 saw a slight dip to seventh in the World Championship held in Egypt and the Sydney Olympic Games in 2000.
The peak was reached in 2001 when Egypt placed fourth in the world championship in France. Then began the slide.
In April 2002, Egypt lost its African crown to Tunisia. In fact, in Portugal, Tunisia finished ahead of Egypt, landing spot No 14.
Egypt's reputation also took a tumble when team captain Gohar Nabil was tested positive for steroids. According to the player and the team doctor, Nabil had been sick and had been taking medicine. The necessary documents proving Nabil's innocence were submitted but not before the player's name had been tarnished.
The only redeeming feature for the Egyptians was the naming of Hussein Zaki as top scorer of the Portugal event.
Abdel-Moneim Wahba, former head of the Egyptian Sports Body and a handball expert and coach, said the team had been in free fall for close to a year now. "I predicted this a year ago, even before they lost the African championship and the World Cup in Sweden," Wahba said. "The policies of the Egyptian federation are not as strong as at the beginning. There are definitely problems on the team. There is no understanding among the players. They lost the drive that once was their key to victory. And it seems there is a gap between them and the coach as well."
Khalil Zaki, head coach of the handball military team, two- time winner of the world military championship, said the coaching staff had made several mistakes which resulted in the poor results. "How could they call up Gohar Nabil and Hazem Awad after sidelining them for almost four months?" Zaki asked. "They weren't training and, as a result, lost their rhythm with their teammates and were lost on the court. Nabil, who was sidelined from the team for months following a row with the coach and sickness, was called up just days before the tournament began.
"Second, the coaches added young players to the team just two months ahead of the event, claiming the squad needed new blood," Zaki added. " But these newcomers were playing in a world championship for the first time. It wasn't the appropriate time. If you want to combine juniors and seniors, it should have been done a year or more earlier. The newcomers would then have gained experience and would have been prepared to participate in the biggest event in the sport," Zaki added.
In a thrilling final in front of 12,000 spectators, Croatia beat Germany 34-31 to win the world title for the first time in its history. The Atlanta Games' gold medallists were beaten only once in nine games, and that against Argentina in the opener. Argentina eventually finished 17.
Former world champions France took home the bronze following an impressive victory over Spain in the play-off match for third place.
For the first time in the history of the competition the first three winners were given prize money. Croatia received $50,000, Germany collected $30,000 while the French pocketed $20,000.
The next best six teams booked their places in the next world championship: Russia, Hungary, Iceland, Yugoslavia, Denmark and Poland.
Teams ranked from first to seventh directly qualify for the Olympics in Athens.
Slovenia, Portugal, Sweden, Tunisia, Egypt and Qatar were placed from 11th to 16th respectively. Argentina, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Australia, Brazil, Morocco and Greenland followed in slots 17 to 24.
This year, the International Handball Federation applied a new system in the championship. Accordingly, the 16 teams that qualified for the second round were divided into four groups of four teams each. Each team played two matches in order to qualify to the quarter-finals.
Several teams complained that the new system unduly complicated qualification. The president of the International Handball Federation, Hassan Mustafa, claimed he had no part in introducing the new format, saying the IHF had already approved of it before he took over as president in November 2000.
However, Mustafa told reporters in Portugal that the IHF would look into the issue.


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