Women’s Group A: Spain, Australia, Greece, Paraguay
The Spanish team will arrive in Kazan knowing that everyone will want to beat them and find that extra motivation to get the scalp of the current world champions.
Having taken the title out of the hands of the all-conquering Brazilian women with a 7:4 shoot-out win at Budapest 2016, the feat was all the more remarkable as the South Americans had only been outside of the medals in just one of the six editions since the World Championships started, and having been champions for the previous four years, after consecutive gold medals at Oman 2012 and Recife in 2014.
But two years is a long time in beach handball and 2016 All-star Team players – right wing Raquel Cano and defender Maria Luisa Garcia – were not named in the provisional Spanish squad for Kazan.
However, heavy hitters like 2016 gold medallist goalkeeper and key player Patricia Encinas will aim to defend the Spanish goal while Maria Asuncion Batista will be running things in the pivot role.
CoachDaniel Lara told IHF.info in Budapest that he could not believe his side had won gold but that victory secured their passage to Kazan as champions and the Spanish are now in their fifth World Championship, having missed out on the 2004, 2006 and 2012 editions.
June 2017 saw Spain defeated by Norway in the semi-finals of the EHF Beach Handball European Championships, held in Zagreb, Croatia, but a 2-1 victory over Denmark in the bronze-medal match came courtesy of a 5:2 penalty shoot-out win.
Another bronze was gained at the 2017 World Games in Poland the following month despite Brazil gaining revenge to beat them 2-0 in the semi-final. Again, Lara’s side managed to dust themselves off again to pick up a bronze, defeating Norway in the medal match.
The Royal Spanish Handball Federation has been investing in beach handball for more than five years and that has translated into the success in recent years and they will be a tough test for anyone who meets them in Russia.
The Australian women’s team has competed at all IHF Beach Handball World Championships and World Games since 2011 and the current squad, led by Head Coach Boris Mensing since 2011 and Assistant Coach Alice Keighley, won the 2018 Oceania Beach Handball Championships held in Adelaide, Australia back in February to book their ticket to Kazan.
Budapest 2016 saw an eighth-place finish in their third-ever World Championship, following the same ranking in their debut, back in 2012 and 12th in 2014 while a seventh (2013) and then a sixth-place finish at the World Games have seen steady improvement.
Australia made it to the quarter-finals at the 2017 World Games in Wroclaw, Poland after beating the hosts and then Chinese Taipei in a group which also featured Brazil. After losing in a shoot-out to Argentina, they beat Chinese Taipei again, in the 5-8 Placement Round before losing to Poland in the 5/6 Placement Match.
Budapest 2016 started frustratingly for the Aussie women after losing to Italy 2-0 in a match which would later prove to be the difference between qualification for the Main Round or Consolation Round.
Another 2-0 loss followed, against Spain and then a 2-1 defeat by hosts Hungary, but they ended on a high with a 2-0 win against Thailand and shoot-out victory over Argentina. Further 2-0 wins, against Uruguay and Tunisia, followed by a 2-0 loss to Poland saw an eventual 7/8 Placement Match with Argentina, but the South Americans were too strong and won 2-0.
Coach Mensing played handball from the age of four years old in Germany until he migrated to Australia in 2000. In 2002 he moved from Sydney to Perth and represented the Western Australian State team at several national championships before starting to play the beach version in 2008.
He will hold a final Kazan 2018 training camp in Melbourne before travelling with his team to Holland for the Camelot Beach Handball Tournament in Oosterhout from 12-15 July.
A land famed for its beaches is appearing in its first-ever Men’s or Women’s IHF Beach Handball World Championship.
To qualify for Kazan 2018, Greece were impressive, beating off some stiff competition at the 2017 EHF Women’s European Beach Handball Championships in Zagreb, Croatia to finish sixth.
Normally, this ranking would not have been enough to make it through to the World Championships, but with hosts Russia in fifth and world champions Spain in third, Greece took the fourth and final continental qualifying spot.
Their preliminary group in Croatia saw them finish joint top on points, behind Spain in Group C on points difference. Their opening match at Lake Jarun, just outside the centre of Zagreb saw them go down 2-0 to the Spanish but they bounced back against Switzerland, winning 2-0 (15:12, 18:10) and followed it up with another 2-0 win, against Italy (19:12, 15:6) in a dominant performance. Their final game saw a dramatic 2-1 win over the hosts thanks to a 7:6 shoot-out win.
The main round started with a 2-0 defeat to eventual European champions Norway but an easy 2-0 (20:6, 18:10) win over Hungary and France by the same score (14:7, 17:15) helped push the Greeks into a third-place position and quarter-final spot, despite a penalty loss to Netherlands (3:2).
Unfortunately, the Greeks met Denmark in the knock-out stage and in a close first set the Danes managed to squeeze a late victory 21:19, thanks to a two-point conversion by Line Kristensen. The second set was clearer as the Danes ran out 15:11 winners and the Greeks, despite the best efforts of Dafina Dhimitri, who scored 17 points, headed to the 5-8 Placement Round.
In what would prove to be an unofficial play-off place for Kazan 2018 against Netherlands, Greece won a high-scoring first set 33:30 with Elisavet Mastaka and Eleni Mournou, who would top-score with 22 points in total, proving deadly. But the Dutch came back to take the second set 26:19.
Their 12:10 win in the shoot-out saw Mournou score the winning points and move the team into the 5/6 Placement Match which they would lose 2-0 to Russia, but ironically, it would also confirm their place in Russia.
Since 2007, the women’s team have been led by Head Coach Maria Karantoni, who was born in Greece but has lived in Germany since 2013.
The former Greek national team player and coach of AC Protoporoi, started playing beach handball in 2001 and has coached in the sand version since 2006 winning first place at the EHF EBT Masters in 2009 and silver at the 1st Mediterranean Beach Games. She has coached the Greek side since 2007.
Key players like Mournou and Mastaka in Zagreb could be joined by Magdalini Kepesidou in Kazan after their side have been preparing at the International Women’s National Tournament, the 5th Greek Cup and the 1st Pan-Hellenic Children-Koraidon which finishes today on Schinias beach, Marathon. The Hungarian women’s team are also set to attend.
The 5th Greek Men’s and Women’s Cup will be held at the same venue and the event is also part of the 19th Pan-Hellenic Championship and the European Beach Tour (EBT).
Like fellow Group A competitors Greece, Paraguay are also appearing in their first-ever men’s or women’s IHF Beach Handball World Championships.
Paraguay qualified for Kazan 2018 through their bronze medal and third-place finish at the 2018 Pan American Beach Handball Championships held in Oceanside, USA back in March.
In the Preliminary Group, despite a 2-0 loss against Uruguay, Paraguay beat Trinidad and Tobago and Mexico 2-0 to qualify through to the quarter-finals, where they faced host nation USA in a game full of drama and tension.
After taking the first set 15:14, the home nation came back strong to win the second by the same score and after it went to penalty shots, the Paraguayans managed to hold their never to win 5:4.
But their journey was to end at the semi-final stage as they lost to the all-conquering Brazilians, however their guaranteed fourth-place or higher ensured that all-important ticket to Kazan 2018.
A bronze-medal match against Mexico awaited them but it was not to prove as easy as their preliminary group clash despite Paraguay easily winning the first set 20:12. The Mexicans came back to win the second set 14:13 and it went to penalty shots, however, the Paraguayans again held their nerve to take a medal, winning 8:4.
The coaching team led by Jose Ignacio Veloso has named a provisional squad which includes Nueva Estrella player Fatima Insfran who plays the indoor version of the game for the Paraguayan national team, most recently at the 2018 IHF Women’s Junior World Championship, held in Debrecen, Hungary.
Photos: Handball Federations of Spain, Australia, Greece and Paraguay