Brazil's Performance at the World Championships (A Good News/Bad News Story for the US)Previously, I wrote that Brazil was one of the teams with an excellent chance to break out of the pack and advance to the Main Round. Well, they not only advanced out of the Preliminary Round, they finished Fourth in their pool and beat South Korea for 7th place. Along the way they nipped Ukraine 33-32, thrashed defending champion France 35-23 (I saw the match on TV and there was no question which team was better), and scared eventual 2nd place finisher Romania 33-35. Clearly, they've shown that they belong with the big dogs. For the US this is a good news, bad news story.
The Good News: Brazil has demonstrated that it's possible for a Western Hemisphere team to break out of the 2nd tier and move into the 1st tier of Handball nations. They've done it through a combination of internal development and the exporting of several top players to European leagues. The US should carefully review how Brazil accomplished this feat and apply some facets of their program to ours. Another positive aspect of Brazil's 8th place is that they have earned an additional qualifying spot for the PANAM nations. Barring a change in the qualification process, 4 teams, instead of 3, will qualify for the 2007 World Championships in France.
The Bad News: It was nice of Brazil to add a World Championship spot for the PANAM region, but it's not so good that they have further widened the gap between themselves and the rest of the teams in the region. 4 teams are guaranteed a spot for the World championships, but only 1 PANAM team is guaranteed a spot for the Olympics. It was nice when the teams in this hemisphere were all bunched together. Any nation could put together a decent team relatively quickly and have a shot at winning PANAMs and playing in the Olympics against the top nations. Unfortunately, Brazil is now a top nation. And to make matters worse the qualification for the 2008 Olympics will be the 2007 PANAM Games in Rio de Janerio, where it would be difficult for an evenly matched US team to win. This past Summer the US lost to Brazil 27-8 in Sao Paulo. As dramatically inferior our program is right now (December 2005) it is simply not realistic to think that in a little over a year in a half (July 2007) we will be in a position to win there.
How the US can develop the sport so that we can compete with the top teams, of course, has been the $64 Million question. Several models have been tried and the US has never had significant success at the highest level. I don’t think necessarily that we can apply the Brazil developmental model in a US context, but certainly we can learn from it.