Match of the day: Tokyo 2020 hosts face European powerhouse in their opener

11 Jan. 2019

Match of the day: Tokyo 2020 hosts face European powerhouse in their opener

After both co-hosts Germany (against Korea) and Denmark (against Chile) had won their openers on Thursday in a dominant way, the rest of the first match day of GER/DEN 2019 will bring on an overall of ten matches in all four venues. In the first major handball match in Munich’s Olympiahalle after the Olympic Games 1972, Japan will clash with FYR Macedonia in the Match of the Day.

It is a duel between the record shooter at a single World Championship – Kiril Lazarov – and a coaching mastermind – Dagur Sigurdsson. The goals of both sides are quite different: “We are here to learn and gain experience for the 2020 Olympic Games on home ground in Tokyo,” says Icelandic-born Sigurdsson, who took over the Japan team as successor of Spaniard Carlos Antonio Ortega in spring 2017.

The year before, Sigurdsson had steered Germany to the Olympic bronze medal in Rio and the European trophy in Krakow, Poland. Sigurdsson knows Japan very well, as he was a player there in his active career. “The European teams in our group are much stronger than us,” he predicts. The last test matches were quite positive, as Japan beat the Czechs and tied with the Poles.

In Asia, they had missed the quarter-finals and the qualification for the GER/DEN 2019 World Championship but were awarded with a wild card from the IHF. From 2005 until 2017, Japan had only qualified for three World Championships.

The Macedonians on the other hand have been part of all major events since 2012, except the Olympic Games. “Tokyo would be a dream for me and for us,” says 38-years-old Lazarov, who has scored the record number of 92 goals at the 2009 World Championship in Croatia and became top scorer again at France 2017, with 50 strikes.

“We are in a state of transition,” says Lazarov, adding: “But we hope to be on top level in latest two years with those young guns.” Having three European opponents ahead, the opener is a must-win for the Macedonians, if they want to remain in the main round race.


Group B in Munich

In the second match of group B, Iceland and Croatia are expected to play an intense duel, maybe already decisive for the final ranking of this group. Iceland will have to replace their record international and record scorer Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson, while Croatian back court ace Domagoj Pavlovic will miss the World Championship too.

The first day in Munich will conclude with the clash of European champions Spain and Asian runners-up Bahrain. The Gulf team, coached by Icelandic Aron Kristjannson, hopes for a final position among the best 20 sides, while Spain are major medal contenders. In 2017, they were eliminated by Croatia in France. Bahrain have never beaten any European team so far at World Championships.


Group A in Berlin

Three European teams and the Pan American runners-up have their debut in the German capital. In the first match, a close fight between Russia and Serbia is expected. Russia had missed to qualify for the last two big events – the 2017 World Championship and the EHF EURO 2018 – but now have started a transition under the helm of new coach Eduard Koksharov, who added fresh blood to his side. On the other hand, new coach Nenad Perunicic will have his debut at a major tournament with the rejuvenated Serbia team.

Defending world champions France are supposed to be in the favourite role against Brazil, though top star Nikola Karabatic is ruled out by an injury. France had missed the final of the previous European championship after a semi-final defeat against Spain, while Brazil had lost the Pan American final against Argentina. In earlier encounters, France had beaten Brazil in the quarter-final of the 2016 Olympic Games and again in the preliminary round at the 2017 World Championship.


Group C in Herning

The fans in Jyske Bank Boxen will see two intercontinental duels in the first matches in Herning. First, Austria lock horns with Saudi Arabia, then 2017 silver medallists Norway clash with Tunisia. While the Austrians, who eliminated Belarus in the European play-offs, seem to be favourites, Tunisia hope for a major surprise. The African champions and their Spanish-born coach Toni Gerona have proved at previous events that they are not that far away from the top nations. Still, all eyes will be on Norwegian super star Sander Sagosen.


Group D in Copenhagen

After the appetizer from group C (Denmark vs Chile) on Thursday night, now the regular group D teams enter the floor in the Danish capital. The match against African bronze medallists Angola will be the first test for 2015 runners-up Qatar. The aim of coach Valero and his team is clear – to finish among the top 8 and to become the best non-European team again, like in 2015 and 2017. Angola count on a great fighting spirit but have a quite limited international experience.

The Argentine ‘Gladiators’ and Hungary follow in the second match. As Argentina have to replace their superstar Diego Simonet, Hungary hope to finish victorious under their new coach Istvan Csoknyai. “This match is crucial for the way to the main round,” says Manolo Cadenas. The Spaniard took over Argentina in 2017 after he had steered Spain to the 2016 EURO final.

Two runners-up of their continental qualification events face in the third match: Egypt lost the African final in Gabon against Tunisia, while record EURO champions Sweden were defeated in the final in Zagreb, Croatia, by Spain. And a Spanish coach will sit on the opposite bench of the ‘Tre Kronor’ teams: David Davis took over Egypt this summer and later-on became coach of Hungarian powerhouse Telekom Veszprem.