A landmark day was cemented into USA Team Handball history with the Men’s National Team defeating Morocco, bronze medalists from the African Handball Championship, 28-27 in a close match from beginning to end.
In the 26 matches across 7 Men’s World Championships that the USA has previously participated in, today marks the first win against some of the world’s best competition.
The match, played at the Husqvarna Garden in Jonkoping, Sweden, was largely speculated to determine the third place team in Group G, who advances to the Main Round of the 2023 IHF World Championship.
After a Pal Merkovski save from 7m, the USA opened the scoring in the match via an Ian Huter goal. With a goal supplied by Domagoj Srsen, surprisingly, the USA found themselves up 5-2 at the 10 minute mark in the match.
The USA was able to hold the Moroccan attack for much of the first half, but a costly barrage of 2 min suspensions forced them to defend 4 versus 6 leading to several goals for the Morocco team. At halftime, the score was level at 12-12.
Morocco came out of the halftime break much more clinical in front of goal, opening a 18-16 lead at the 40 minute mark. However, a red card to key player Mohamed Bentaleb disrupted the rhythm the Moroccan team developed.
As U-S-A chants started in the Husqvarna Garden from the contingent of fans that made the trip overseas, Drew Donlin injected some fire into the offensive attack as the clock passed 45 minutes. With a shot from the right wing and an improbable goal while being closely guarded by two defenders, Donlin extended the USA lead to 3.
Understanding how important this match would be to their progression in the tournament, Morocco came back to within 1 goal at 55 minute mark, when a blue card was issued to USA Head Coach Robert Hedin after officials determined that he had called a timeout after Alex Chan Blanco had lost possession, meaning he would have to watch the rest of the match from the stands. Assistant Coach Darrick Heath was tasked with seeing out the last 5 minutes of the match.
In a time out by the Americans in the 58th minute, Heath urged his team to play smart, and his message came to fruition. With just under a minute to go, Abou Fofana scored to put the USA up 28-27 and after an incredible defensive stand, forcing a turnover, the American squad was able to run out the clock and send shockwaves through the handball world.
Abou Fofana led the USA in goals with 6, Alex Chan Blanco added 5, and Drew Donlin, Ian Huter, and Sam Hoddersen each provided 4.
The Player of the Match award was presented to goalkeeper Pal Merkovski whose timely saves kept the US in the match and ultimately led to the squad’s victory.
Next up for the Americans is a Sunday match versus Croatia, whose 2023 World Championship campaign opened with a 31-22 loss to fellow Group G side Egypt.
The USA will hope to continue on the momentum created in their first match, and if they clean up their self-inflicted mistakes, fares well against the European side.
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