World sport was almost completely paralyzed for much of 2020 by the coronavirus. In the second semester, little by little, it began to reactivate. Argentine athletes had the chance to compete again in different disciplines, such as soccer, rugby, tennis, basketball, and judo. This week it will be the turn of the handball and the Gladiators will perform at the Egypt Men’s World Cup, the first ecumenical contest that a blue and white team will play since the pandemic broke out.
And it will be a special World Cup that will be held in Cairo and three other cities in that country between this Wednesday and January 31. Because it will be the first to bring together 32 teams and the first to be held in the run-up to an Olympic Game, after the postponement of the Tokyo appointment to 2021 due to the Covid-19 crisis. And because it will be held, according to the times the world lives, under a strict sanitary protocol: without public, with very little press and in bubble mode, with isolated schools, constantly monitored and without contact between them, except in matches.
“We have established special, tough and strict measures and precautions that must be followed during the tournament. And there will be no place in Egypt 2021 for those who do not respect those rules,” he warned at the end of last month Hassan moustafa, president of the International Handball Federation (IHF), making it clear that there will be a heavy hand for offenders.
The arrival of the German team in Egypt, amid the coronavirus prevention controls. Photo Sascha Klahn / dpa
As happened in the vast majority of sporting events that took place in the midst of the pandemic, the World Cup organizers put together a prevention plan, which contains the classic measures such as the mandatory use of face masks except for players on the court, respect of social distancing, the use of hand sanitizers and tests for everyone involved in the tournament every 72 hours.
The IHF and the organizing committee delegated to each of the national federations the responsibility of testing their teams before leaving for Egypt, since entry to the bubbles is only allowed with a negative PCR 72 hours before the trip.
Once in Egyptian lands, each campus will be confined in its bubble. They can only leave the hotel to train and play games. There will be no city walks, recreational outings, or family visits. Neither contact with other teams.
Each team is made up of 20 players, instead of the 16 of the previous editions. The IHF decided to increase the quota to give teams replacement alternatives in the event of a Covid-19 outbreak, in addition to preventing the possibility of injury after a previous season with little activity. The cost of travel and accommodation for these “extra” members will be borne by the international federation.
The tournament will be played behind closed doors, despite the fact that at first it had been announced that the entry of the public would be enabled to occupy 20 percent of the seats in the different stadiums. That decision did not go down very well with the players, who raised their voices in protest. Figures of some powers, such as the Danish Mikkel hansen, they considered getting off the pageant for that reason.
Norwegian Sander sagosen He claimed it was “irresponsible for people to be allowed in the stands at this time” and accused the FIH of prioritizing the “World Cup business” before the health of the players.
The campuses got together and sent a letter against this measure to the international federation signed, among others, by Uwe Gensheimer, captain of the German national team (who lost nine players who were not willing to play in the middle of the pandemic); Niklas Landin, the captain of Denmark; and Domagoj Duvnjak, the one from Croatia.
Finally, it was reversed and over the weekend it was announced that the stadiums in Cairo, New Capital, Borg El Arab and October 6 that will host the event will not open their doors to spectators.
A view of the stadium in Cairo where Argentina will play, behind closed doors, the first phase of the World Handball. Photo Twitter @ Egypt2021
Will also be a different tournament for the press. Access will only be allowed to the media that carry out live coverage for television signals. And the journalists will also be isolated in their bubbles and will handle themselves with the same rules as the players, the staff and the organization.
Also, there will be no direct contact with the players, because mixed zones and face-to-face interviews have been eliminated. There will only be virtual press conferences.
In the midst of all these measures and new rules, designed so that the contest can be held without endangering those selected or the Egyptian people, the most important festival in world handball will be experienced.
Denmark will seek to revalidate the title it won two years ago in the event that it hosted with Germany. The reigning champions will be one of the three rivals in the group stage of Argentina, which will try to make history in a very special edition of the World Cup.
The Gladiators, faced with a great challenge
Although the World Cup will get underway this Wednesday with the duel between host Egypt and Chile for group G; the bulk of the action will start on Thursday and The Gladiators will debut on Friday, at 2 p.m. in our country, in front of Congo, one of the debutants of the contest.
With his eyes also on the Olympic Games, the Argentine national team, who won the Pan American Games in Lima 2019, will try to take another leap in quality and improve what has been done in previous World Cups. Thus, the objective will be to qualify for the quarterfinals for the first time, for which they will have to overcome two phases.
Lucas Moscariello in action during the duel that Argentina beat Spain in Moscow, as a preview of the World Cup. Photo EFE / EPA / SERGEI ILNITSKY
In the first -eight groups of four-, they will play in Cairo in group D together with Congo; Bahrain, which they will face on Sunday also at 2 pm; and Denmark, defending champion, with whom he will meet on Tuesday at 16.30.
If he finishes in the top three, he will stay in contention for the trophy and advance to the next stage, which will divide the top 24 into four zones of six. There, the first two of each group will go into the quarterfinals.
The task of those led by the Spanish Manuel Cardenas getting to that stage will not be easy. They would, in principle, have to beat Congo and Bahrain in the first phase to reach the second calmly. At that stage, they would also meet rivals from group C, formed by Croatia, Qatar, Japan (the three candidates to advance) and Angola.
And as only two from each zone of that second phase will reach the group of the best eight, they will surely have to defeat Denmark (who will almost certainly be first in D) or Croatia (favorite to win C) in that section of the tournament, two powers, to qualify for fourths.
The Argentines will face the challenge with high confidence, after having closed the tour prior to the Egyptian appointment with a historic victory against Spain, whom they defeated on the last date of the Christmas Tournament which was played in Moscow last week. It was a clear 25 to 19 in favor of the national team, which thus achieved its first victory against the Iberians. In the debut, he had lost by just one goal, 22-21, to Russia.
In the last days of 2020, in addition, he had played another preparation contest in Qatar, in which he fell tightly against the local (24-22) and against Spain (33-31) and defeated Tunisia 28-27.
Argentina – which qualified for the tournament in January last year, by finishing in the top 3 of the Central and South American Tournament in Brazil, in which it was champion – will play the ecumenical event for the 13th consecutive time. He played it for the first time in Japan 1997 and since then he has never been absent. His best performances were the round of 16 in France 2011 and Qatar 2015.
Those two editions were still played with the old format of a group stage and then playoffs. In both cases, the national team was fired in the first round of the knockout phase against Sweden and France, respectively. Can Egypt sign his best World Cup, just months before Tokyo 2020?