Spain embark on their gold mission with huge home support
Prince Felipe will attend the opening match, over 11,000 tickets have been sold for Friday's (11 January) opening game of the 2013 Men’s World Championship and the anticipation for this tournament is huge in Spain.
For the first time, the Royal Spanish Handball Federation is the host and the organiser of a World Championship, and after some difficulties in the preparation period, everything is focused on a brilliant event.
And expectations in the Spanish team are high to go all the way to the final and win the title for the second time, after their first triumph in Tunisia in 2005.
Coach Valero Rivera shares the high hopes: “The fact that we are playing a World Championship in Spain requires us to be in the semi-finals, but it is clear that our dream is to be in the final.”
Since 2005, every host nation of a Men’s World Championships have reached the semi-finals at least, and the latest Men’s and Women’s EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia were perfect examples of how the support from the stands gives a huge boost to the hosting team.
"I hope that Spain will be as lively as it was in Serbia," says Rivera, "and we all recognised this special atmosphere in our final test matches on home ground.
"There is great enthusiasm from the Spanish fans. We expect and hope that there will be successful support for us.
"It is a very important time for Spanish handball and we all want it to be a success for the sport and public."
In Madrid, where Spain will play their Preliminary Round games, the fans are currently high on handball.
The final Spanish match in the Caja Magica Arena against Croatia, a re-match of the EHF EURO 2012 bronze medal match, has been sold-out for weeks, and a perfect start in the opening match against Algeria this evening will cause even more interest - all major Spanish media are already full of handball and World Championship stories.
The build-up to the competition has not been plain sailing for the hosts as they were hit hard by injury problems: Jose Javier Hombrados, record national team player and captain, is out after a cruciate ligament rupture in October.
Hombrados’ successor as team captain, Raul Entrerrios, will have to miss the pinnacle of his career with a right hand fracture, too, as will Cristian Ugalde, with a fibula break in Spain’s test match win Chile.
But many experts still expect Spain to go all the way to the final on 27 January in Barcelona. For coach Valero Rivera, this public interest is more of an impetus than a problem.
"Playing at home always puts more pressure on a team, but it is clear that we prefer this pressure, due to the support we will receive by the public.
"We all want to play matches at home, rather than away. For everyone playing at home is more of an advantage."
Spain will play in the toughest of all groups, with the London 2012 Olympic semi-finalists Croatia and Hungary, but as the host they could decide in which group they wanted to start.
Rivera explains the reasons: "We chose this group with the idea of not having an early knock-out stage encounter with Croatia.
"Croatia is one of the teams that have caused us big problems and we prefer not having to face them in last 16 or quarter-final."
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor