16 European teams remain in the quarter-final race
16 of 17 European teams have qualified for the main round of the 2021 Men’s World Championship in Egypt. As four European teams clashed in group E - Switzerland had replaced USA after several COVID-19 cases in their team- it was obvious that one of them would miss the main round and would have to continue in the Presidents Cup for the positions 25 to 32.
Thanks to their outstanding playmaker Andy Schmid, Switzerland beat Austria in their opener 28:25, arriving directly from the airport to the playing hall, and managed to proceed in their first World Championship in 26 years.
The second European team to arrive as late replacements was North Macedonia (replacing Czech Republic). After two opening defeats, Kiril Lazarov & Co. managed to beat Chile to qualify for the main round alongside the two European wild card teams Poland and Russia.
For the first time in the history of Men’s World Championships, matches had to be canceled, as Cape Verde only had nine available players after COVID-19 cases ruled more players out after their opening defeat against Hungary. Eventually, they withdrew from the competition and Cape Verde’s debut ended with only one match and 32nd place.
With the completion of the preliminary round on Tuesday night, five teams finished the first stage with a maximum of six points: Hungary, France, Denmark, Portugal and Sweden. Spain, Croatia and surprisingly the Russian Handball Federation team remained unbeaten.
In group A, Hungary beat Germany in the crucial duel for the top spot and two important points for the main round. The best Hungarian was line player Bence Banhidi, who scored eight goals in the 29:28 win, handing Alfred Gislason his first loss as German national team coach.
Germany, Hungary and Uruguay will duel with Spain, Brazil and Poland in the main round group 1. The EHF EURO 2018 and 2020 champions had a shaky start, snatching a 29:29 draw against Brazil, before beating a resurgent Poland team by the narrowest of margins, 27:26. Beating African champions Tunisia clearly, Spain finished on top of the group, taking three points to the main round, in which they first face Germany on Thursday.
In main round group 2, the race for the quarter-finals is set to be a three-way battle between defending World Champions Denmark (4 points), EHF EURO 2020 runners-up Croatia (3) and Asian champions Qatar (2). The last clash on Sunday will bring Denmark up against Croatia. The Danes went through their preliminaries like a warm knife through butter, beating their three non-European opponents by double-digit margins.
Croatia had enormous problems early on, needing a penalty to rescue a 29:29 draw against Japan. They followed that scare by beating Angola and Qatar. However, the Croats were dealt another blow as playmaker Luka Cindric has been ruled out with a groin injury.
Record world champions France were another surprise at Egypt: Only some days after their defeat and draw against Serbia in EHF EURO 2022 qualifiers, they beat Norway in an impressive way, 28:24. Despite Sander Sagosen’s top form and top-scoring with 30 goals, the Norwegian side took only 2 points to the main round after this defeat. This sets up a likely three-way battle between Norway, France and Portugal, similar to 2020. The Portuguese side repeated their strong performances from the EHF EURO 2020, opening with a 25:23 win against Iceland and now take four points to the next stage.
In another close battle, Sweden tamed the hosts in the preliminary round group G final. The 24:23 win opened the gates towards the quarter-finals for the team of new head coach Glenn Solberg. Sweden top main round group 4 at the start with four points ahead of the surprisingly strong Russian Handball Federation team.
In his first tournament as head coach, Velimir Petkovic lifted the team’s level significantly - proved by the surprising 31:25 against Slovenia (fourth-ranked at the EHF EURO 2020). Like Egpyt, the Slovenian side start their main round campaign with two points after beating Belarus in the final preliminary round match.
Photo credit: IHF