Day of destiny for US men on home soil
14 Jul. 2022
The semi-finals of The World Games 2022 men’s beach handball competition are here with Croatia taking on the USA (17:10) and Brazil facing Qatar (18:00) in Birmingham, Alabama on Thursday.
As the home team, the United States feel pressure to succeed, but are playing as debutants and the freedom that brings with it, losing just once, against Brazil (0-2).
Even though the team now have two opportunities to go for a medal – and they will be fighting every single second for the chance to stand on a home podium – every single person associated with the sport in the North American country knows it is more than the results on the sand in Sloss Furnaces.
With that in mind, the US men brought in world-renowned – and World Games gold medal-winning – coach Antonio Guerra Peixe to help them maximise the chances of a home medal.
“Beach handball and handball are the most exciting sports in the world. The athletic components of running, jumping and throwing are built for the American athlete,” explained US men’s coach Michael Hinson to ihf.info.
“Antonio is the greatest coach in the history of the sport. He is the John Wooden (famous USA college basketball coach) of beach handball. He is here to make handball visible to thousands of Americans who have never heard of the sport.
“We need to create moments here in Birmingham so people can see our sport. He is here to help develop and grow the sport in the US so thousands of athletes want to be a part of handball.
“He wants to help develop players, coaches and an infrastructure to give beach handball the structure needed to create long-term success and sustainability. Beach handball and team handball will grow together and making our sport visible to people in this country and giving them opportunities to experience these events not only as a fan but as a player will catapult the growth of the sport.”
So not much pressure on the USA delegation here in Alabama But they are more than capable of handling it.
Most recently, they lost to Croatia 0-2 (20:23, 21:22) in the 2022 IHF Men’s Beach Handball World Championships in Greece as the Europeans went on to win the world title. However, the closeness of both periods highlights what, for neutrals at least, should be a dramatic clash.
The other semi-final sees a renewal of rivalries at a major tournament with Brazil playing Qatar (18:00).
They both met at Greece 2022, in their very first match, with the Brazilians taking a 2-1 (16:17, 14:10, SO 8:6) shoot-out win. That was the same score at the 2019 ANOC World Beach Games on Qatari soil in Doha to go with a group encounter at The World Games 2017, won by the Asia continent runners-up.
“We have played against Brazil many times in all competitions and we know each other very well,” said Qatar goalkeeper Mohsen Alyafeai to ihf.info.
“It will be a very difficult match for both teams, and the fewest mistakes will determine the winner.”
Over the years, Alyafeai has told ihf.info about his imminent retirement, but he keeps coming back to the squad, evidence of his unbelievable skill on the sand.
And the 43-year-old is enjoying the Alabama experience like a teenager.
“The World Games are a great opportunity to see and learn about new sports that are not in the Olympic Games,” he said. “That are the beautiful moments in the life of any athlete and they won’t forget it.”
In the 5-7 placement round history will be made for at least New Zealand or Puerto Rico who could win the first-ever The World Games match for their country.
Both sides are debuting in the global multisport event and go head-to-head at 14:40. Just over three hours later (18:00) New Zealand will be in action again, facing the strongest team in the placement round, Argentina.
The South American side beat world champions Croatia yesterday in a shoot-out to end their main round campaign equal on points with the European nation as well as Qatar but missed out on a final four spot.