New rooms but empty of public, sanitary bubbles whose effectiveness remains to be proven and favorites less prepared than ever: the competition which begins this Wednesday in Egypt could hold surprises until the final on January 31.
This 27th Handball World Championship, the second in Egypt after 1999 and the 5th outside Europe (Japan 1997, Tunisia 2005, Qatar 2015), promises to be exceptional by the combination of two factors: it is the first edition with 32 teams. , against 24 previously, and it is maintained despite the Covid-19 pandemic which has been confusing the planet for exactly a year. The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics, postponed from summer 2020 to summer 2021, should look closely at this first World Cup in a major team sport since the start of the pandemic, six months from their deadline.
“To be able to maintain a competition with 32 countries at this time that the planet is going through may seem a pretty crazy project”
The Egyptian authorities, directly involved in the organization of the event – Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly heads the organizing committee – and the International Federation chaired by an Egyptian, Hassan Moustafa, did everything to maintain this showcase despite the enormous logistical difficulties linked to the health context. Even if it means sacrificing the spectators at the last moment – a gauge of 30 and then 20% was planned until Sunday, before switching to total closed doors – while three of the four enclosures were built for the occasion: the room of the new capital (7,500 places) east of Cairo, that of the City of October 6 (5,200), another suburb located to the west of the gigantic megalopolis, and that of Alexandria (5,000). “Being able to maintain a competition with 32 countries at this time that the planet is going through may seem like a pretty crazy project,” admitted French coach Guillaume Gille. “And at the same time, it’s a tremendous success.”
A hellish pace
For each of the sites, a gigantic hotel capable of accommodating eight teams, the organizers and the few accredited media has been erected into a health bubble. But the flaws in the protocol were visible from the first massive arrivals on Sunday, whether in the organization of PCR tests or the respect of barrier gestures. Faced with these uncertain conditions, Hendrik Pekeler, Patrick Wiencek and Steffen Weinhold, the German executives just crowned European champions with Kiel, must not regret having stayed at home, they who did, in the heart of the second wave of the coronavirus, the choice not to leave their family. This will be an opportunity for them to recharge their batteries in a season made hell by quarantines, postponements linked to confinements or cases of Covid-19, and by the links between competitions. The internationals involved in the Final Four of the Champions League did not even have a week, at the New Year, to reinstate their selection and play the qualifications for Euro 2022, and leave for Egypt in the wake. . and Tokyo looms at the end of this long road, anything but straight.
The difficulty of clearing a big favorite
In this chaotic calendar, the expansion of the field is finally good news for the favorites who, with neophyte opponents (DR Congo, Uruguay, Cape Verde) and the reintroduction of quarter-finals, will have more room to break in. Except Norway, finalist of the last two editions, and France, the most successful nation (6 times) but come down from its pedestal since 2017, which will cross swords from Thursday. The loser will no longer be allowed to make mistakes during the second round for which the points acquired in the first will be kept. Denmark, passed like France by the wayside during Euro 2020, Spain and Croatia, finalists of this last tournament and whose reunion in a preparation match in Madrid was sabotaged by the snowstorm, do not have no more certainties than the French, unable to beat Serbia last week. The same goes for Slovenia, an attractive outsider but hung on Sunday by the Netherlands (27-27), yet absent in Egypt. As for the latter, often competitive but never a medalist, she will have to do without her audience but still hopes to win the quarters. This is the goal for everyone because then everything is possible.