Group III: Who will be the odd one out?
24 Jan. 2021
Going into the final day of the main round in Giza, Group III is wide open with France, Norway, and Portugal all with a chance to qualify for the quarter-finals.
A calculator could be needed should a certain set of results happen at Dr Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall in Giza with two crucial Men’s EHF EURO 2020 rematches.
For Norway, they have to win against Iceland in the middle game of three at Dr Hassan Moustafa Sports Hall and hope that France defeat Portugal in the late match. France can even afford to lose by as many as two goals and still win the group, with Portugal joining them and Norway – silver medallists in 2017 and 2019 – going home.
(Click here for more details about quarter-finals qualification scenarios)
The first game of the day sees the already-eliminated teams Algeria and Switzerland play their final Egypt 2021 game.
Algeria vs Switzerland 16:30 CAT
Alain Portes’ Algerian side started their Egypt 2021 campaign with a win against Morocco which, ultimately, confirmed their place in the main round. But since then, they have not been able to win again and will be desperate to end their world championship with a win, against Switzerland.
The North African side will want to make the short journey home after Egypt with another win but the European last-minute addition in Switzerland will want to end their “fairytale”, as coach Michael Suter has called their experience, with a victory as well, although he admitted his side had run out of steam against Portugal last time out (29:33).
Aside from the Morocco win, one of the most impressive performances from Algeria in Egypt was against France where they led a number of times and, at one point, looked to be walking away with a draw against the team who have won all their games so far.
But, ultimately, the French won by three and it was clear in their subsequent clash against another European heavyweight, Norway, that they had run out of steam, something which coach Portes admitted to later.
Algeria’s key goalkeeper Khalifa Ghedbane was not in the Algerian squad for the Norway clash due to illness, but Portes confirmed to ihf.info that the EHF Champions League-winning player will return against Switzerland.
“We won our game against Morocco, didn’t have a very good performance against Iceland, but in this game against France, we were really good,” said Algeria captain Messaoud Berkous to ihf.info. “We honoured Algerian handball and I can say we’re getting back on track.”
In 10 games against Algeria, Switzerland have won nine times, according handball.ch. The most recent meeting was in a test match in Hammamet, Tunisia, which the Swiss won 32:20 in November 2015.
Iceland vs Norway 19:00 CAT
In their two-goal loss to France, Iceland were without Alexander Petersson who left the squad for personal reasons, while captain Arnor Gunnarsson and goalkeeper Agust Bjorgvinsson were “rested” for the match, according to the Icelandic Handball Federation.
But Gudmundur Gudmundsson’s side impressed, with 20-year-old goalkeeper Viktor Hallgrimsson, left wing Bjarki Elisson and right back Viggo Kristjansson, the star players against the record championship-winners and Christian Berge’s Norway will have to pay them close attention, although Gudmundsson revealed an injury concern with Kristjansson on the rest day between games.
In many ways, Berge and his team had the ideal preparation for this crucial match, defeating Algeria 36:23 and able to rotate all but two of his squad and practice some different attacking. “I’m very satisfied that we got through this game and could ‘train’ a little bit before the [Iceland] game,” he said.
“We have to do our job and then we have to see in what direction it goes. Our squad seems very, very good now, they are playing better and better. We wanted to try 7 against 6 (against Algeria), because maybe we will need it against Iceland as they are very good in defence and we had some troubles before with their ‘chameleon’ defence.”
“We will watch some videos of Iceland to know how they have been playing and then make a plan to beat them,” added Norway’s Harald Reinkind, to ihf.info. “We are playing good and everything is great there is not much pressure, but our goal is to win [overall]. We lost our first match against France so we will have to wait to see how the last match goes and see the overall result.”
Wait they will have to. Sagosen has told Norwegian media he will be playing PlayStation while waiting, with Berge preferring to watch a movie. Norway’s France-born winger Alexander Blonz joked that he would ignore Elverum club teammate Luc Abalo in training if France did not win.
According to handball.no, these two teams have met 94 times, with 38 wins for Norway and 41 for Iceland. Their last clash was at the EHF Men’s EURO 2020, where Norway won their main round clash 31:28 in Malmo.
Portugal vs France 21:30 CAT
‘Heróis do Mar’ (‘Heroes of the Sea’) are the first three words of the Portuguese national anthem and also relates to ‘Os Lusíadas’, a poem written by 16th century Portuguese poet Luis Vaz de Camões where he exalts the heroes of the sea, Portuguese people and their culture.
The Portugal national men’s handball team have been using this nickname for many years now, but will they be ‘Heroes of the Sand’ in Giza come the end of today?
Their mission is simple: beat France. But the maths are not straightforward. Both teams know what is at stake and while it is clearer for Portugal, France know too: win, draw or lose by a maximum of six goals, and they are through. Lose by just two and they are through still as group winners.
But any big result like that will be not be as simple as it is written. France are one of only three teams at Egypt 2021 to have won all their games so far (along with Denmark and Hungary), their latest, a two-goal win against Iceland.
France have not looked perfect however, and Portugal – maybe with more purpose in this game – have the tools to dismantle them again, just like they did in Trondheim, Norway, last year in the European championship preliminary round (28:25).
“If you told me a couple of months ago that Norway would be waiting for our result [to see if they qualify through to a quarter-final] against France I wouldn’t believe it,” said Portugal coach Paulo Pereira. “We are their hope and we feel so much respect from them to us but we set the bar to the top eight of the world championship, and if we can push through that, we can push through to the medals.”
“Clearly we are not at all in this notion of calculation,” said France coach Guillaume Gille. “We focus on the fact that this game would open the doors to the quarter-finals for us, ignoring the scores. The worst thing would be to start imagining the management of a result and to get by like this. The Portuguese challenge comes at the right time to carry out an assessment.
While Porto is the key club for the recent surge in Portuguese fortunes, many of their players are well-known in France, like line player Alexis Borges and left back Gilberto Duarte (both Montpellier), right wing Pedro Portela (Tremblay), left back Alexandre Cavalcanti (HBC Nantes).
Another club link is between the team eagerly watching – Norway – and the team that could decide whether they have to book their flights home for Monday. That club is Veszprém in Hungary with France’s Kentin Mahe playing there alongside Norway’s Kent Robin Tonnesen.
With thanks to Ebtessam Osman, Myada Ashraf and Zeina Raafat for interviews and translation.