By Sports Reporter Doha
Qatar finished runners-up to France at the Doha Worlds two years back and have been a force to reckon with in the region
Qatar will take on Egypt tomorrow in their opening match of the 2017 World Handball Championship, which began yesterday in France yesterday.
The biennial event, last hosted by Qatar, is expected to be among the most intense to date for a number of reasons. While Qatar shone bright as France snatched the title in 2015 in Doha, one cannot ignore Germany’s resurgence and its 2016 European title, as well as Denmark’s gold medal in Rio last summer, meaning that this year’s tournament will see unprecedented intensity.
Qatar are placed in Group D, alongside Denmark, Sweden, Bahrain, Argentina and Egypt. They finished runner-up to France at the Doha Worlds two years back and have been a force to reckon with in the region. They arrived rather late at the top level of men’s handball, but when they did arrive, it was with a bang.
The Asian champions went from 20th at the 2013 World Championship to an unprecedented second at the 24th Worlds in Doha in 2015. Prior to that their highest ranking on the world stage was 16th, though they had experienced continental successes including winning the Asian Championship in 2014.
Last year Qatar again claimed the Asian title, only months after they won the Asian Olympic tournament to secure their nation’s first ever berth at the Olympic Games. Considering their success at the 2015 World Championship, Qatar were one of the favourites to win a medal at Rio 2016, but they were eliminated from the gold-medal race in the quarter-final stage by Germany — the very team Qatar knocked out of the running at the World Championship 18 months before.
Qatar nevertheless finished eighth overall, and boasted the second-best goalkeeper of the competition in the form of Danijel Saric, who saved at an average of 35% through the Olympic tournament. Left-back Rafael Capote was the sixth top goal-scorer with a tally of 40, while right-back Zarko Markovic was eighth with 33. All three were a key component in Qatar’s World Championship success, with Saric stopping a total of 75 shots to rank as third-best keeper and Capote and Markovic named as the All-Star players in their respective positions.
Under the leadership of 2013 World Championship winning coach Valero Rivera, who led Spain to the title two years before guiding Qatar to silver, the Asian champions have become one of the top forces in men’s handball. After the disappointment of leaving Rio 2016 empty handed, the squad will undoubtedly be set on a stronger showing at France 2017.
Qatar appear to have a good chance of finishing near or at the top of the Group D table at the end of the preliminary round, where they will meet Rio 2016 gold medallists Denmark, Egypt, Bahrain, Argentina and Sweden — who went from second at London 2012 to finish 11th at the Rio Games, and have subsequently undergone a change in coaching staff.
The Handball Worlds is returning to France following a 16-year absence and the country’s second world title. At the last Worlds in France, Arab teams began posting improved results, as Egypt became the first Arab and African team to reach the semi-finals, followed by Tunisia in 2005. Qatar stole the spotlight in the 2015 tournament, becoming the first Arab and non-European team to reach the final.
Coach: Valero Rivera
Key players: Danijel Saric (goalkeeper), Rafael Capote (left-back)
Best finish: Runners-up at 2015 World Championship in Doha
Past showing: 1954-2001: DNQ; 2003: 16th; 2005: 21st; 2007: 23rd; 2009-2011: DNQ; 2013: 20th; 2015: 2nd
Qatar are placed in Group D at 2017 Worlds, alongside Denmark, Sweden, Egypt, Bahrain and Argentina
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