After going through a main round of the world championship as long as a rainy day, the French team is finally facing close matches this Sunday. Is the current formula of the competition still the right one?
By opening its world championship to thirty-two teams in 2021, the international federation did not hide its objective: to open the biggest world competition to countries which did not have access to it before. Inevitably something positive, therefore, while the European inbreeding of handball could, in the long term, get the better of its place on the program of the Olympic Games. If the disadvantages of this formula had gone relatively unnoticed in 2021 in Egypt, they jump this year in the eyes of all. With in particular an extended main round, where teams find themselves eliminated, sometimes from the first day. Selections without reference at the highest level have certainly succeeded in winning their sesame for the second phase of the World Cup, but like the United States or Iran, find themselves exhausted, leaving many matches without stake to be played, like France-Iran on Friday evening. “Frankly, it was not dreaming…” slips a member of the tricolor delegation. Kentin Mahé celebrating his penalty at 6:30 p.m. on a Wednesday in front of empty stands (photo), we have actually seen better…
“Puzzle of finding the right formula”
If the formula leaves something to be desired, it must nevertheless be recognized that the task of the IHF is not easy. How to integrate nations, mostly non-European, in a formula where they rub shoulders with selections featuring the best players in the world? “It’s a headache to find the right formula, to manage to integrate teams that need to play against strong adversity to progress. But by sparing the goat and the cabbage, we arrive at somewhat comical situations” notes Guillaume Gille, the coach of the France team. If he certainly sees a good eye to have been able to face Iran or Saudi Arabia and therefore, to have been able to rotate his workforce, some of his players have been able to find the time long. And the prospect of playing a France – Spain without much at stake on Sunday does not raise the crowds either. “It is not advertising our sport to play this match without there being a stake” Gil continues.
Sad spectacle in front of empty stands
The impression of length is certainly not helped by the empty stands of the Tauron Arena. If the Spodek of Katowice, in particular during the opening match against the host country, had put on quite a spectacle, the rows of empty gray seats in the Krakow hall do not incite the players to enthusiasm at the time. entrance on the floor. “Poland is out, maybe that’s why people don’t come. My parents told me that in town, there was much less publicity for the event than in 2016” said Ludovic Fabregas, while Guillaume Gille evoked “Inflation, war not far from here. We can understand that people have choices to make. And when you know the fervor of the Polish public, it is sure that its absence makes the show a little more bland.
Return to a format with more direct eliminations?
So what to do? Return to a tighter formula, even if it means annihilating the efforts made for several years to develop handball in countries where it is not culturally established? Or return to a competition format that gives pride of place to knockout matches, even if it means endangering certain historic nations? “Having experienced other competition formats, these were much more readable for the public and also, it solved the problem of the intensity that the players put in the meetings” ends Guillaume Gille while Vincent Gérard points out the aberrations of this extended formula: “We see more and more that the teams that go to the end end up burned, so the system favors the big nations with a large pool of players. It’s a bit like the snake biting its own tail.“ In the opinion of many, the problem is complex, not to say insoluble. In the meantime, as Yanis Lenne would say, “for us, the competition seems a bit long”…
In Krakow, Kevin Domas