The 2015 Handball World Championship host Qatar has put together a powerful national team in recent years. Or, rather, an international team. On Wednesday it faces its toughest exam yet: a quarterfinal against Germany.
The national handball team of Qatar are a multicultural bunch. Left back Bertrand Roine once played for France at the European Championships, goalkeeper Goran Stojanovic and forward Zarko Markovic come from Montenegro, while second-choice goalkeeper Danijel Saric hails from Bosnia.
The roots of Borja Vidal are in Spain, Hassan Mabrouk was an Egyptian and Rafael Capote comes from Cuba. Now, many of the players are Qatari residents or even citizens.
The recruitment drive appears to be paying off as the Asian champions now find themselves in nosebleed territory: the quarterfinals of world handball’s showpiece event, where it will face 2007 champion Germany on Wednesday (from 15.30 UTC).
For Germany’s national coach Dagur Sigurdsson – himself an Icelander - there is every reason to fear the internationally-assembled host nation.
"They can compete with any European team [and] we will have to play well to get something," said Sigurdsson on the eve of the game.
Germany breezed through the group phase with four and wins and a draw before overpowering Egypt 23-16 in its last 16 kockout tie on Monday.
For that Sigurdsson could thank an incredible performance from goalkeeper Carsten Lichtlein (20 saves) behind an outstanding defense, but Germany may need to sharpen up in attack if it is to progress yet further. Qatar has conceded only 122 goals all tournament – the third-lowest after Sweden and Denmark.
"I think they come into the quarter-finals, semi-finals perhaps," predicted Spain's world champion Joan Canellas, who plays for Bundesliga club THW Kiel. Canellas, though, was referring to Qatar, not his own adopted home country, in comments made after Spain edged their group match 28-25 a week ago.
"They are agood team with good players, even though that may not be so well known," said Canellas, for whom the number of naturalizations among the host team is not an issue. "If they can do it, why not," he said.
World Cup-winning coach
But the players on their own do not guarantee success. To complete the jigsaw, a proven international coach was needed. Step forward Valero Rivera, the Spaniard who led his countrymen to the 2013 world title.
"He's one of the best coaches in the world and has built a great team, introduced tactical discipline and improves the individual strengths of the players," said France's Olympic champion coach Claude Onesta.
The Qatar team has also benefitted from being able to practise together since August - an advantage which is not available for the favorites from Europe.
Already the quarterfinals was a surprise coup for Qatar in this tournament, and an achievement not lost on its foreign legion.
"This is a huge result for handball in Qatar. I'm really proud of it. We have made history in Qatar Handball," said Markovic, a former Hamburg-based Bundesliga handball player.
There may be more history waiting to be written after the match against Germany.
pwh/asz (dpa, sid)