MNT Finishes Sixth in 2014 Pan American Championship

July 01, 2014, 7:45 p.m. (ET)
Men's National Handball Team Finishes Sixth in 2014 Pan American Championship

By: Maurice Godwin

USA Team Handball Communications Specialist

Qatar 2015 is no longer in sight.

Tuesday afternoon, the USA Team Handball Men's National Team returned to the United States from two weeks of international competition against some of the best handball teams in the Western hemisphere. After spending the week of June 15 training in Brazil and playing friendly scrimmages against the Brazilian National Handball Team, Team USA took their talents to Canelones, Uruguay, to compete in the 2014 Pan American Men's Handball Championship from June 23-29.

This tournament served as the qualifying tournament for the 2015 IHF World Men's Handball Championship, which will be held Jan. 15 through Feb. 1 in Qatar.

Originally, 10 teams were slated to compete in the tournament, but Cuba and Venezuela declined to participate in the tournament due to various reasons. Team USA was grouped with the national handball teams from Brazil, Guatemala, and host nation Uruguay, while the other group consisted of the national handball teams of Chile, Argentina, Mexico, and Greenland.

Due to the withdrawal of the Cuban and Venezuelan teams, Team USA began competition a day later than originally scheduled (Tuesday, June 24), and against the Brazilian National Team, the team they practiced against the week prior. Team Brazil ultimately outplayed the U.S. team and won, 28:17, behind a balanced scoring effort. [Score Sheet]

The next day, the U.S. Team took on host Uruguay in front of a capacity crowd. Team USA needed a win against the home team to keep hope alive for a chance at Qatar 2015. However, due to a combination of unfortunate turnovers and two-minute penalties, falling behind 0:7, and outstanding goalkeeping by Uruguay's Manuel Adler, the U.S. team ended the first half down 5:15.

USA Head coach Javier Garcia Cuesta implemented a pressure man-to-man defensive scheme in the second half to put Uruguay on their heels. Team USA successfully cut the deficit to four with the defensive pressure tactic but never got any closer and fell short 23:27, removing all chances for a top-three finish. [Score Sheet]

Playing for pride and experience the rest of the way, the U.S. competed against Guatemala on Thursday, hoping to complete pool play with a win and a chance at the 5th-place game. Team USA struggled early to create a comfortable margin against the resilient Guatemalan team, and went into halftime with only a one-point lead. Employing the effective man-to-man defensive pressure in the second half, Team USA managed to create easy fast-break opportunities and finished off the opposition, 34:28 behind 10 goals from back/wing Adam El-Zoghby. [Score Sheet]

After a rest day (Friday), Team USA played a crossover match against Mexico (from Group B) on Saturday. Mexico was coming off losses to all other teams in their group, and the U.S. was heavily favored to win the match. With great offensive performances from El-Zoghby (9 goals), team captain Jordan Fithian at pivot (7), and center back Carsen Chun (7), the U.S. defeated Mexico handily, 41:22. [Score Sheet]

With a fifth-place finish on the line on the final day of the tournament, Team USA matched up against Greenland. Having also beaten Mexico and Guatemala, Greenland looked to continue their offensive success against the U.S. Team USA fell behind early and struggled to defend the impressive offensive attack of Greenland. Trailing by nine at halftime (25:14), Team USA dug deep in the second half to try and reduce their deficit. However, the man-to-man pressure had lost its potency against Greenland, and the Northern contenders matched the 18 goals scored by the U.S. in the second half to earn fifth place, 43:32. Team USA Center back Martin Clemons Axelsson led all scorers with 12 goals. [Score Sheet]

The top-three teams of the tournament--Argentina (gold), Brazil (silver), and Chile (bronze)--qualified for the 2015 World Men's Handball Championship. 

Three U.S. players finished the tournament in the top seven in goals scored: El-Zoghby, third (34 total goals); Axelsson, sixth (26); and back Gary Hines, seventh (25).

More information on the 2014 Pan American Men's Handball Championship tournament, including complete standings, final scores, photos, and awards can be found on the Argentina Handball Federation website