Group III: Decision day in Giza
22 Jan. 2021
By the end of the trio of matches at Dr Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall today (Friday 22 January) the path – or not – to the quarter-finals will be much clearer for all six teams in Group III, all of whom still have a mathematical chance of going through to the last eight.
Switzerland vs Portugal 16:30 CAT
Portugal coach Paulo Pereira will be hoping his team respond in the best possible way after losing their first match at Egypt 2021, unable to salvage a draw against Norway on Thursday (20 January) after hitting the post in the last second.
Pereira had caused all sorts of problems for Norway with his 7 against 6 attack and last quarter introduction of goalkeeper Humberto Gomes, who went on to make five saves in five minutes. This may have earnt the 43-year-old the player of the match award, but the Portuguese were distraught at the end, feeling that at least one point had been lost.
“I have two feelings,” said Pereira at the end of the match. “Firstly, of sadness because we could have won the game, but on the other hand, I am proud of the players who fought to play with one of the best teams in the world.”
Portugal have the journey to the quarter-finals in their own hands, unlike their opponents, but for their line player Alexi Borges, the match will be tough.
“We can no longer think about what happened [against Norway],” said Borges to the Portuguese Handball Federation website. “Switzerland is a team that wasn’t supposed to be in the plans here but was called up and they have had a great journey.
“Andy Schmid is the brain of the team, they have a great team, and the pressure [for us both] is the same, if we can concentrate, we will have a great game. Our dream and that of all of Portugal is that we reach the final.”
Schmid lies tied for seventh in the Egypt 2021 top-scorer chart, on 24 goals, and, along with goalkeeper Nikola Portner is the key player for the Swiss, who registered a main round win against Iceland.
While the Swiss have been living a “fairy-tale” according to their coach Michael Suter, after they replaced the United States at the last-minute, they have now more than earnt their place in the championship.
The irony of the win against Iceland was that it was that very side they were due to play in the world championship qualification double-header last June, which was cancelled because of COVID-19.
“Physically we're walking slowly, but we're currently riding a wave that should carry us further,” said Schmid ahead of the game. “We shouldn't think too much and just go full throttle into the next game against Portugal.”
Portugal and Switzerland have met 27 times according to handball.ch, with the Swiss winning 13 times and losing 11. The last time they met was in the Yellow Cup in Winterthur with Switzerland taking a 28:25 win, their third in a row after two test match victories in Portugal back in 2018 (23:22, 28:27).
Iceland vs France 19:00 CAT
Despite winning all four of their games at Egypt 2021 against Norway, Switzerland, Austria and Algeria, and having one foot in the quarter-finals, France coach Guillaume Gille talked about “solving our issues” after Algeria pushed them close last time out, with his line player Nicholas Tournat echoing his thoughts.
“We have to stay positive because we continue to win,” said Tournat to the French Handball Federation website. “We know very well what did not work and we will have to seriously re-mobilise, without leaving any room for doubt. Everyone is in this same spirit I know and now is not the time to panic. We can really go far in this world championship.”
In fact France have shown vulnerabilities in Egypt, both in attack and defence, vulnerabilities that have not been evident in recent years as they attempt to rebuild their dynastic pedigree in the sport which they have dominated for so long.
“We are no longer the great French team of 10 years ago,” said Luc Abalo. “Rather, [we are] in rebuild. Of course, the coach will slap us on the fingers, but I want to tell my teammates that life is not always perfect and that we are not going to dominate every game.”
Despite these issues, France have won all four of their games at Egypt 2021, just one of three teams to do so, along with Denmark and Hungary, and are in prime position in the group.
Iceland on the other side “couldn't find solutions to attack the Swiss offence and made mistakes in counter-attacks and fast-breaks,” according to their coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson who saw his hopes of reaching the last eight almost end with a 18:20 loss against Switzerland on Thursday (21 January). “We need to work on avoiding such errors before the next game against France, who are strong and more experienced,” he concluded.
The sides met at this stage at the last IHF Men’s World Championship, Germany/Denmark 2019, with France easily winning, 31:22.
Norway vs Algeria 21:30 CAT
Can Algeria play at the level they did against France last time out when they went toe-to-toe against the 2017 world champions, pushing them all the way to the last few minutes?
Algerian captain Messaoud Berkous certainly hopes so, with his Player of the Match performance against the French, a small consolation for their 29:26 loss which had been equal right up until the 57th minute.
“We played a good match, much better than our last matches,” he said. “I am happy for my team especially as most of them are young, but we were nervous in the last two minutes and made mistakes when we were level. Against Norway we will try to fix these mistakes and I hope what comes will be better.”
But Algeria will have to find a way to nullify Egypt 2021 top-scorer Sander Sagosen, who is on his way to potentially becoming the top European Championship and World Championship scorer in 12 months.
His 36 goals have propelled his side forward, but their opening-day 24:28 loss to France could come back to haunt them, depending on other results and mathematics, even if they win their two remaining games.
Norway had another scare last time out, scraping past Portugal to go equal with them on four points in the group, after a last-second Rui Silva shot hit the post for the Portuguese.
“Beating Portugal was important so we could equal their points total and keep our chances of progression alive,” said Christian Berge. “We will prepare for Algeria who did really well against France.”
The two teams have met just eight times, with Norway winning five and losing three, according to handball.no. The most recent match came the week before the 2005 IHF Men’s World Championship in Tunisia, where Norway beat Algeria 34:22.
Algeria quotes: Zeina Raafat