We have reached the halfway point of the tournament. Greenland has punched their ticket by winning their first three matches, all in rather comfortable fashion. After disposing of Cuba in a physical battle on day one they handled business against Puerto Rico and Mexico on day two and three. Three of the other four teams, including the USA, sit at 1-1 and need only one more win to guarantee a ticket to Uruguay this June. Puerto Rico is 0-3 with a match up against Cuba on Saturday.
The next two days (Friday and Saturday) will decide who qualifies for the Pan Am Championships. We play Greenland tonight and with a victory, would give ourselves a chance to win the tournament with another win against Mexico Saturday night. If we lose tonight, we would have to beat Mexico to guarantee a spot, depending on the outcome of the Cuba-Puerto Rico game. All in all it is very confusing and all that matters is we stay focused on what we need to do and continue to improve in every match.
Our first match against Cuba was ugly. To say we played poorly would be an understatement. We struggled to score, at times making their goalie look like an all-world player, and we lost our composure to boot. We embarrassed ourselves and our country; it was a not a good start to the tournament. Halftime score was 13-6 Cuba. We held them to one goal the last 10 minutes of the game but couldn´t produce any goals on our end either. The final tally was 21-15 in favor of Cuba. Thursday, in morning meetings, we had a little gut check and discussion on what being a team and representing the USA is all about. This team has a very eclectic group of men of varied backgrounds and ages but we all came to an understanding that when we step on the court together we are family.
The great thing about these tournaments is the chance to play again the next day. After our Come to Jesus talk Thursday morning we refocused on Puerto Rico, forgetting about the atrocity that was day one and Cuba. Our energy, attitude and passion as a team was a complete about face from the night before and although we still did not play our best, we supported each other. We stayed positive with each other and truly believed we were the better team and the score at the end displayed this. We won 29-26, with big games from Adam Elzoghby, Martin Clemens Axelsson, Gary Hines and Vladimir Andjelic on the offensive end. Our defense proved to be strong again with our goalies putting on another impressive show. Selfishly, the reason I love playing a team sport is because even if you personally play like garbage (which I did on the offensive end, hitting the goalie from point blank range on 5 of 7 shots) you have teammates there to pick you up and carry you, which is exactly what my teammates did.
We have had multiple guys earn their first National Team appearance so far this week and for fear of missing anybody, I won´t try and name them all. Congratulations to all of them. Coach Cuesta continues to impart an unbelievable amount of knowledge, not only about handball but about life in general. He is a joy to play for.
The Mexican boxing team hasn´t been running intervals the last two mornings so the 20 second intermittent shrill whistles starting at 645 AM have stopped, allowing us to get some sleep. What a blessing. The Mexican Rugby team moved in today and I hope they are unbelievably quick and agile, because they are not large individuals. The Mexican speed walking team is very impressive, they speed walk all over the Olympic complex, running people down and doing their best to go as fast as possible without actually running, which makes no sense to me but to each their own. The complex is full of athletes of all ages from many different countries, including swimmers, gymnasts, boxers, Judoists?, Taekwondoests?, track and field athletes and handballers to name a few.
The food, if anything, has only improved. The Wifi has not. After speaking with good folks from home, we understand the streaming was absolutely awful for yesterday´s game. Hopefully the next two will be much better. It is time for my afternoon siesta and pre game prep time. Hasta luego my friends.