Kosovo 2019: Review – Matchday 1

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The opening day of the 2018/19 IHF Men’s Trophy Intercontinental Phase threw-off in Pristina, Kosovo today, with two games each in the U19 youth competition and U21 junior competition.

Two venues were used on the opening day, with the 1st of October hall hosting the U19 matches and Palace of Youth and Sports hosting the U21 games.

Ahead of their senior Men’s EHF EURO 2020 qualifier against Israel at the same venue later that evening, the Kosovan fans saw a glimpse of the near future as their junior men made light work of Chinese Taipei while the USA defeated Australia.

The youth competition saw big wins for both Canada and Chinese Taipei, against New Zealand and Paraguay respectively.

Wednesday 10 April

Youth Competition (U19)

Group B: New Zealand vs Canada 10:37 (4:20)

At half-time, Ludovic Roucoulet’s Canadian side had restricted their Oceania opponents to just four strikes and with a lead of 16 goals (20:4), the match was already over as a contest but that did not stop a spirited game.

The side from North America had raced to an early 3:0 lead (4th minute), before Miguel Aizpuru, who plays his club handball for Vikings Handball Club, got the Kiwis off the mark soon after. However, the next six minutes were a disaster for New Zealand as Canada went clear by eight goals in the 10th minute (9:1).

Tim Rayner will be working hard with his New Zealand team as they prepare to face the hosts tomorrow, while Roucoulet will enjoy a rest day with his Canadian squad who could also thank goalkeepers Blaise MW Holloway and Elliot Leroy with a combined save rate of 66% (19 saves from 29 shots).

The Canadians ended with 10 different scorers, led by Mamadu Guennady Barri on nine while three different players hit the net for New Zealand, led by Paul Ireland (four goals).

Group A: Paraguay vs Chinese Taipei 22:38 (11:21)

The final game of the opening day of Kosovo 2019 featured South America against Asia with Chinese Taipei breezing to victory against Paraguay by 16 goals.

The first half saw all 12 of the Chinese Taipei out court players score, with just goalkeepers Tsai Chih Chang and Chieng En Chiu unable to get on the scoresheet as the Asian team spread around the goals against their opponents who could only manage 16 shots in the opening half hour.

Gabriel Osmar Figueroa Salinas tried his best to keep the Taipei side at bay in the Paraguay goal, making 13 first-half saves, but it was not to be as his side were already 4:1 down after just three minutes. With the score at 11:6 just over a quarter into the match-up it was proving to be an uphill struggle for the South Americans early on.

Worse was to come though as by the 23rd minute Taipei were 11 strikes in front, having gone 17:6 up with a 6:0 run.

The double figure lead carried into the break and was extended in the second half with Taipei getting to a 16-goal advantage just six minutes into the second period, extending it to 17 goals on a number of occasions as Paraguay made numerous technical errors in attack, although eight goals from Jesus Higinio Zalazar Espinosa was a highlight for Carlos Javier Ramirez Villaneuva’s side.

Junior Competition (U21)

Group B: United States of America vs Australia 31:20 (14:9)

The USA emphatically defeated Australia by 11 in the opening match of Kosovo 2019, led by nine goals each from Amar Amitovic and debutant Asaf Bengozi. 13 saves from Rene Ingram in the American goal also added to the dominant performance which had USA coach exclaiming “now we’re playing handball, baby” in the 35th minute as he could relax, watching his side go 17:11 up.

America had been locked with their opponents until the 19th minute (7:7) before they opened up a considerable lead (13:7) in the 26th minute after going on a 6:0 run over the next seven minutes thanks to their effective shooting but also with help from an Australian offence that repeatedly turned the ball over.

Bengozi, who plays his club handball in Israel, was full of smiles after the match. “It was my first national team game and it’s an honour for me to represent the United States,” he said. “It’s very exciting for me [to score nine goals] but I’m very happy for the team; it’s a great win and we’ve got to keep on pushing and going on.”

Group A: Kosovo vs Chinese Taipei 31:23 (16:10)

Host nation Kosovo got off to a difficult start against Chinese Taipei, failing to break down an unfamiliar 3-3 defence which held out until the end of the first quarter. However, at 5:4 ahead in the 14th minute, the Kosovans finally found their way, moving ahead step-by-step as they answered the defensive stand with attacking prowess (10:6 ahead, 20th minute), going into the break six up (16:10) and setting up an easier second half.

A double-figure lead followed soon after the half-time pause (22:12, 38th minute) which was kept for most of the second period, although Chinese Taipei did stage a small run late on outscoring their opponents 5:2 as the home side took their eyes off the ball but it was not to be enough.

“We weren’t prepared for this,” said Kosovo captain Jon Muqolli about the early Chinese Taipei defensive tactics. “It was a very difficult game for the first 15 minutes because they were so quick and strong.”

At the end of the match, a loud roar embraced the Palace of Youth and Sports as the Kosovo players went over to their friends and families as they celebrated what they hope will be the first victory in a title-winning campaign on home soil.

Tomorrow (Thursday 11 April), the youth competition features Kosovo vs New Zealand (1pm) and Chinese Taipei vs Nigeria (7pm), with the Asian and African sides facing each other in the U21 junior competition too (5pm), following Australia taking on Paraguay (3pm).

All games will be streamed live on the IHF website.

Photo: Shpend Ahmeti/Kosovo Handball Federation

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