Handball ChampionshipThe stage is now set for the last few games of the 2015 World Men’s Handball Championship at the Qatari capital Doha. The 24th championship has thrown up some surprises and the biggest news was the hosts Qatar entering the semifinals. The championship, which is held every two years, was last staged in 2013 at Spain and won by the host country. Qatar secured its claim for hosting the tournament four years ago by the International Handball Federation, who examined three other bids from Norway, Poland and France. This was the third time in IHF’s history that Men’s World Handball Championship is being staged in the Middle-East and North Africa after Egypt in 1999 and Tunisia in 2005. Of the 24 participating nations, Qatar was an automatic entry by virtue of being the hosts and Spain qualified because they were 2013 champions. That left 22 spots to be decided by IHF’s method of qualification.


The qualification process began in January 2014 and lasted until November 2014. As finalists of 2014 European Championship, Denmark and France filled the two vacancies and Croatia came in despite losing in third-place play-off because the winner Spain had already qualified as past champions. Poland, Russia, Czech Republic, Austria, Sweden, Slovenia, Macedonia, Belarus and Bosnia-Herzegovina entered through the due European qualification play-off matches in June 2014. Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt found their places as they held the first three places during the African Championship in January 2014. Similarly, Brazil, Argentina and Chile qualified as finalists and third place holders in 2014 Pan-American Championship. From Asian Men’s Handball Championship 2014, third-placed Iran made the grade because finalist Bahrain withdrew from the world championship. The remaining three places went to Germany, Iceland and Saudi Arabia as wild-card entries. The 24 teams were divided in four Groups of 6 teams each and they played round-robin matches against each other in their groups. As per the tournament format the best 4 from each group were eligible for round-of-16 play-offs. After the conclusion of round-robin matches on January 24, 2015, the knock-out stage began on January 25.


In the first four matches played last Sunday, Qatar defeated Austria 29-27; Slovenia beat Macedonia 30-28; Spain defeated Tunisia 28-20 and Croatia had a narrow 26-25 win over Brazil. On January 26, Germany beat Egypt 23-16; Poland beat Sweden 24-20; Denmark beat Iceland 30-25 and France beat Argentina 33-20. With the conclusion of these play-offs the quarterfinal line-up was revealed.


All quarterfinals were played on January 28 beginning with the game between Croatia and Poland. It was a close game in which Polish goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal excelled. After an even first half, at the end of which Poland led 12-10, Croatia came back strongly to race away to a 16-13 lead. But Poland produced a late charge to secure the lead once again with 10 minutes left. But the Croats were not finished yet. For a while, they went ahead 21-20, when Zlatko Horvat netted smartly. But Poland struck thrice through Chrapkowski, Syprzak and Jurkiewicz and with Szmal bringing off two spectacular Poland stormed into the semi-final with a 24-22 victory.


In the second match, hosts Qatar shocked Germany with a 26-24 finish. Qatari goalkeepers Danijel Saric and Goran Stojanovic were simply superb and they thwarted the German advance on several occasions. The only time that Germany led was in the beginning at 1-0 but afterwards, Qatar took control of the match. Qatar’s Zarko Markovic was literally unstoppable in mounting the offence on the German goal. After the halftime, Germany missed too many chances and at one time they had narrowed the deficit to 20-19 but near the finish, Rafael Capote ensured the Qataris go to the semifinals. In all, Capote scored 8 goals. Qatar will face Poland on Saturday for the place in the final.


The third quarterfinal between Denmark and Spain was as close as it could get. The teams were level 11-11 at halftime and continued to exchange lead even after that. Even as the 60th minute approached, the game remained level at 24-24. When everyone expected the extra-time play, Spain’s Joan Canellas came up with the last-second goal to make the game extremely thrilling. Spanish winger Valero Rivera junior scored 10 goals from 11 attempts to be named the player of the match. Spain won 25-24 and entered the semifinal, where they will face France for the place in the final.


In the last quarterfinal, France beat Slovenia 32-23. It was mostly a one-sided contest with the powerful Frenchman completely outplaying their opponents. Even at halftime, France had a big 18-10 lead and they consolidated on that in the second half. The French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer was impenetrable as he made 18 saves in all. The attacks from France were also pin-pointed against which the Slovenian goalkeeper had no chance. Luka Zvizejor Slovenia and Daniel Narcisse for France were the top scorers with six goals each.