In Egypt, the national football team has always monopolised the spotlight of the country’s sports scene, supported and cheered for by the population and officials. This year, and especially with the Rio Olympics taking the sports world by storm, the spotlight has started to shine on other team sports, specifically handball. Winning the 2016 African Handball Cup of Nations a few months ago, the Egyptian men’s handball team qualified to join the 2016 Rio Olympics in Brazil, keeping hopes high that an Egyptian athlete would come home bearing a medal.
The journey of the national men’s handball team started long ago, but reached the peak of its fame and achievements in the 1990s.
At their first appearance in the 1964 World Men’s Handball Championship, Egypt’s handball team came in 14th place.
At the 1991 Mediterranean Games, held in Athens, Egypt’s handball team brought home a silver medal, losing the gold to Yugoslavia. Italy and Greece won third and fourth places, respectively.
The team came in seventh place at the 1999 World Men’s Handball Championship, hosted in Egypt. Sweden walked away with gold, while Russia was the runner-up. Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro) and Spain ended in third and fourth places, respectively.
In 2001, the national team came in fourth place at the World Men’s Handball Championship. First, second, and third places had gone to France, Sweden, and Yugoslavia (Serbia and Montenegro), respectively. Egypt’s team was the first non-European team to be qualified to the championship’s semifinals, being dubbed as the ‘dream team’ by many.
At the 2013 Mediterranean Games, which was celebrated in Turkey’s Mersin, the handball team surprised the world by winning gold. The silver and bronze medals went to Croatia and Turkey.
Three years later, the team scored gold again at the 2016 African Handball Cup of Nations, qualifying the national ‘dream team’ for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics and to the 2017 IHF World Men’s Handball Championship in France in January.
Despite Egypt’s defeat against Slovenia at its opening match in Rio, the team recovered quickly. Given that the team had frequently lost to Sweden in previous championships, the Rio Olympics proved that the Egyptian team had developed tremendously, as they beat Sweden on 9 August with an outstanding performance. Sweden is considered one of the strongest handball teams at the international level. The score stood at 26-25 for Egypt at the end of the match.
The Egyptian team’s first participation in the Summer Olympics was in 1992 in Barcelona, but it achieved its highest Olympic ranking, at sixth place, in the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympics in the United States. The team was preceded by Croatia, Sweden, Spain, France, and Russia, respectively.
As Egypt’s team is placed in group B in the first round in Rio, it is scheduled to meet Poland, Brazil, and Germany on 11, 13 and 15 of August.
Egyptians are counting on the handball team to score big in Rio.