QATAR, who finished as runners-up in the 2015 edition at home, have their task cut out at the 25th International Handball Federation (IHF) Men’s Championship, beginning across eight venues in France on Wednesday.
After starting as rank outsiders, Qatar defied the odds to go on and reach the final two years ago before going down 22-25 to France. They lost 20-35 to the world champions again in the group stage of 2016 Rio Games.
France are the most successful team in championship history, having triumphed five times, and they again look the team to beat.
European powerhouse Spain and Rio Games bronze medallists Germany are also formidable teams.
The tournament features 24 teams split into four groups. Qatar are in Group D alongside, Denmark, Sweden, Argentina, Egypt and Bahrain.
Qatar, coached by Spanish legend Valero Rivera, fine-tuned their preparations for the biennial Worlds by playing in an international tournament in Barcelona, where they finished as runners-up behind hosts Spain.
In Spain, they beat Argentina 30-25, whom they will meet in Paris on January 17. So the win should obviously give them a morale-booster.
Qatar, who open their campaign against familiar African foes Egypt on Friday, will once again rely on the tried-and-tested trio of Kamalaldin Mallash, Rafael Capote and Danijel Saric, the key players at Rio, where they lost to Germany in the quarterfinal.
Qatar Handball Association President Ahmed Mohammed Abdulrab Al Shaabi wished the team good luck.
“Our first target obviously would be to reach the knockout phase. Then, we’ll take it one game at a time. Nobody gave us a chance two years ago, yet we surprised everyone and reached the final. Anything is possible,” said Al Shaabi.