14 of 24 nations at the final tournament in Spain are EHF member federations
European teams likely to dominate 2013 World Championship
France can make history, Spain will make history: For the first time a Men’s World Championship is hosted by the Spanish Handball Federation, and from 11 to 27 January handball will be the focus of attention not only on the Iberian peninsula, but across all of Europe.
After having won the World Championship in 2009 (in Croatia) and 2011 (in Sweden), two times EHF EURO champions France can become the first men’s handball team to finish a title hat trick in Spain.
On the other hand Danish Ulrik Wilbek can become the first coach to become world champion with a female and a male team, if the EHF EURO 2012 champions win the trophy in the final in Barcelona on 27 January.
Since the inaugural men’s indoor world championships in 1954 only teams from Europe have become medallists.
Besides world and Olympic champions, France, and EHF EURO 2012 champions, Denmark, hosts Spain and the EHF EURO 2012 and Olympic bronze medallists, Croatia, are supposed to be the major favourites for the world championship which starts on Friday (11 January) with the opening match of hosts Spain against Algeria in Madrid's arena "Caja Magica".
Overall 14 of the 24 participants are European teams. France (defending champions) and Spain (hosts) had qualified directly, the three EHF EURO 2012 medallists, Denmark (gold), Serbia (silver) and Croatia (bronze), had booked their ticket via the EHF's flagship tournament.
The remaining nine European teams made their way to Spain through the qualification play-offs. The major surprise in those matches was Montenegro's victory against Sweden, the team that would later become London 2012 Olympic silver medallists.
In all four groups of the Preliminary Round – played in Madrid, Zaragoza, Granollers/Barcelona and Sevilla – at least three European teams have been seeded.
On paper Group D, played in Madrid, seems to be the toughest as it includes Spain as well as the Olympic semi-finalists Hungary and Croatia.
Those three medal contenders are the clear favourites to reach the last 16 compared to their opponents Algeria, Egypt and Australia.
In Group A the 2007 world champions, Germany, their successors in 2009 and 2011, France, and the surprise team from Montenegro meet the two continental champions, Argentina (Pan-America) and Tunisia (Africa), and Brazil.
Four European teams fight for the last 16 spots in Group B (Denmark, FYR Macedonia, Iceland and Russia) and Group C (Serbia, Slovenia, Poland and Belarus).
The Preliminary Round will be played on five match days per group from 11 to 19 January, followed by the Round of the last 16 in Barcelona and Zaragoza (20/21 January) and the quarter-finals in the same cities on 23 January.
From the semi-finals (25 January) onwards, all matches will be played in Barcelona (Palau Sant Jordi), including the bronze final (26 January) and the final (27 January).
The four best ranked teams from each group in the Preliminary Round qualify for the last 16.
The group winners face the fourth ranked teams, the second ranked play against the third ranked teams. And all teams from Europe can hope for reaching the knock-out stages.
The teams respectively ranked fifth and sixth compete in the President’s Cup for the positions 17 to 24 in Guadalajara on 21/22 January.
Some big names like Olafur Stefansson (Iceland), Ivano Balic (Croatia), Jose Javier Hombrados (Spain), Iker Romero (Spain), Nandor Fazekas (Hungary), Guillaume Gille (France), Wissem Hmam (Tunisia) or Pascal Hens (Germany) will miss the World Championship in Spain as they have either quit their international careers, have not been nominated or are injured.
As it is the first major men's handball event in the new Olympic cycle, experts expect a tournament of transition – but nobody believes that this transition will stop the European dominance.
The 2013 world champion will qualify directly for the 2015 World Championship, hosted by Qatar.
However, the final results have no relevance for the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark.
The Preliminary Round groups are as follows:
A in Barcelona/Granollers: France (defending champions), Germany, Montenegro, Tunisia, Argentina, Brazil
B in Sevilla: Denmark (EHF EURO 2012 champions), FYR Macedonia, Iceland, Russia, Qatar, Chile
C in Zaragoza: Serbia, Slovenia, Poland, Belarus, Korea, Saudi-Arabia
D in Madrid: Spain, Croatia, Hungary, Algeria, Egypt, Australia
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
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