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World Championship

UPDATE: 18 teams represent Europe at largest World Championship to date

EHF / Björn Pazen

UPDATE - Wednesday 09:15: Czech Republic and USA withdrew from the event on Tuesday and were replaced by North Macedonia and Switzerland

For the first time, 32 teams will compete at the Men’s World Championship and 18 European teams are part of the event, which is hosted by Egypt from 13 January until 31 January. The idea to hold an extended event grew at the EHF Congress in Glasgow, when it was decided to hold a Men’s EHF EURO with 24 instead of 16 teams from 2020 onwards.

IHF President Hassan Moustafa, guest of honour at Glasgow, took the idea to the IHF bodies and finally, the enlargement was decided. At the second World Championship to take place in Egypt, after the first in 1999, 18 participants are from Europe.

The European qualification play-offs had to be cancelled due to COVID-19, therefore the ranking of the EHF EURO 2020 was decisive for the 13 spots, as Denmark qualified as defending champions. Besides, Poland and Russia received wild cards for the World Championship - and according to the CAS anti-doping sentence on Russian sports, they will be known as the Russian Handball Federation Team.

Big clashes early on

History repeats itself in the tough group E: Like at the EHF EURO 2018 in Croatia and the EHF EURO 2020 in Sweden, Austria and Norway, record World Champions France and EHF EURO 2020 bronze medallists Norway face already in the first stage. Norway eliminated France one year ago but this scenario is not that realistic at Egypt - because of the playing system. Three teams will progress to the main round from a group also featuring Austria and Switzerland, making France and Norway favourites to go through.

The 32 teams are divided into eight groups in the first stage, then form four main round group´s with six teams each, followed by the quarter-finals, for which the two best-ranked teams of the groups qualify. Finally, the semi-finals and the final day will decide, which team will be the 27th world champion and successor of defending champions Denmark, who beat Norway on home court in Herning in the 2019 final, while France took the bronze medal ahead of joint hosts Germany.

Denmark and Germany have quite straightforward groups as the Danes do not face any European opponents, rather two teams which, like the Danes, have already booked their tickets for the Olympic Games in Tokyo: Argentina and Bahrain. The underdog in this group is DR Congo.

Germany face Hungary in the duel for the top position as well as two World Championship debutants Uruguay and Cape Verde.

EHF EURO 2020 champions Spain have higher hurdles to clear, facing Poland, Tunisia and Brazil, while the 2020 runners-up Croatia will have a mixed and challenging group with Qatar, Japan and Angola. Qatar are still the only non-European medallists at the Men’s World Championship, winning silver on home ground in 2015.

Three European teams (Slovenia, Belarus, Russia) and Korea are part of group H, while host Egypt - one of the medal contenders - face Sweden, Chile and North Macedonia. Portugal, the surprise team of EHF EURO 2020, know their opening opponent well as they just faced Iceland twice in the EHF EURO 2022 qualification, winning at home and losing the away match.

Egypt join the usual suspects as contenders

Besides Spain, most of the top teams face some injury problems. The list of top players, who miss the event is quite long this time: Nikola Karabatic (France), Aron Palmarsson (Iceland), Luka Stepancic (Croatia), Henrik Toft Hansen and Rasmus Lauge (Denmark), Albin Lagergren, Lukas Nilsson and Niclas Ekberg (Sweden), the EHF Champions League winners Patrick Wiencek, Henrik Pekeler and Steffen Weinhold (Germany), as well as Norwegian Magnus Rod, are among the players not on court in Egypt.

As in previous years, Spain, Norway, Denmark, France and Croatia top predictions lists. Egypt are among the contenders as well, though their home advantage was reduced somewhat as the IHF and the organisers decided on Sunday that no spectators will be allowed in the four arenas in Cairo, Giza, New Capital and Alexandria, after the team captains of the European teams and the players union EHPU had addressed a later to IHF President Hassan Moustafa.

The hygiene concept is more or less the same as at the 2020 Women’s EHF EURO in Denmark, as all teams and officials, as well as media representatives in Egypt, form a bubble, which will have no contact to the outside world, leaving the team hotels only for training and matches.

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