Historic achievement for Cuba to secure maiden trophy at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship
30 Apr. 2023
With a dominating display against Cyprus, Cuba became the first non-European side to clinch the trophy at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, winning all four games at Bulgaria 2023.
In the final, Cuba emerged victorious after a flawless display, taking a clear 28:18 win to lift the trophy that eluded them four years ago when they lost the final against Georgia.
This final tied the most lopsided last act of the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, set four years ago, when Georgia beat Cuba (31:21), while also being the lowest-scoring one of the four editions played so far.
- Cyprus vs Cuba 18:28 (9:14)
Cyprus were the only team to score in triple digits in the first three games of the 2023 IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship. Still, they looked to be clear underdogs against Cuba, which delivered an exciting brand of handball throughout the competition at Bulgaria 2023.
The only issue that Cuba presented was the start of the games, where they were clearly struggling, as proven in the semi-final against Bulgaria, another European side which was able to exploit their problems.
And for a few minutes, Cyprus also took advantage, having an excellent start of the game, with a 4:2 lead, as the top scorer of the first three rounds, Alexandros Charalambous, and fellow back Loucas Paraskeva dominated the attack and delivered an excellent start for the European team.
But Cuba are not the team to back down, and through their most experienced players, who are featuring for European teams, they delivered the first blow, using a 4:0 unanswered run to turn the game on its head, as Hanser Rodriguez Rodriguez and Ronaldo Almeida Duquezne combined for three goals between them.
From that point on, it was only Cuba dictating the tempo, as Cyprus hit a wall like they previously did in the other matches played so far, with their attack lacking the necessary impetus. At the same time, their defence failed to get some meaningful stops. Throw in the disappointing outing from goalkeeper Georgios Ppoumos, who saved only three shots for a meagre 16% saving efficiency, it was clear that Cyprus had a mountain to climb.
However, it was the second half of the games where Cyprus really shined, owing to their excellent physical standard. But facing more of the same medicine from Cuba, the European side failed to produce the goods required to mount a challenge for a comeback.
Almeida Duquezne and Rodriguez Rodriguez, who combined for eight goals in the first half, continued to impress through their output, with the pivotal moment of the match coming early in the second half.
As Cyprus needed eight minutes and 22 seconds to score their first goal, Cuba went on a 3:0 unanswered run to create an eight-goal lead (17:9), which proved to be unassailable, with the European side failing to produce anything meaningful in attack.
When Paraskeva, previously injured in the first match against the Republic of Moldova, aggravated his knee issues, the game was as good as done for Cyprus, with Cuba carefully managing the gap, as the European side could not match the excellent display put on by the opponent.
Alexandros Charalambous, who looked like a shoo-in for the top goal scorer title, failed to score more than four goals and finished on the second place in that standing with a four-goal tally, as Cuba carefully prepared to stop Cyprus’ main weapon.
With all but one outfield player scoring at least a goal for Cuba, it was a hugely successful team effort which yielded the win (28:18), backed by an outstanding game from Almeida Duquezne, which finished the match with eight goals.
Four years after losing the final of the 2019 IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, Cuba avenged that loss, and in tears of joy, the players lifted the title at Bulgaria 2023 with a four-game winning streak, creating one of the best achievements in the history of Cuba handball.
With experienced players, but also some dazzling young talent, Cuba will now look to the future with a new pair of eyes, as the potential to be nurtured in players like the MVP of Bulgaria 2023, Hanser Rodriguez Rodriguez, or Ronaldo Almeida Duquezne being there to be taken advantage of.
On the other hand, Cyprus failed to extend the European domination at the IHF Men’s Emerging Nations Championship, with the previous three editions being won by the Faroe Islands and Georgia. Yet, they can congratulate themselves for some good moments throughout Bulgaria 2023 and a silver medal to be displayed in the trophy cabinet.
Player of the Match: Ronaldo Hiriam Almeida Duquezne (Cuba)