Sunday, July 26, 2015

A Convert: Brazil takes the Gold

The championship Handball game last night was a thriller. Truly.  Argentina and Brazil faced each other in the second half of the doubleheader. Earlier I had seen Chile defeat Uruguay for the Bronze.

The Gold medal match was nothing like the preliminary.  I could see--as one might predict--there are different styles and strategies to the game. While Chile and Uruguay played a slow down game with a big fellow playing what amounted to a post--Brazil and Argentina had a wide open running style. Both Chile and Uruguay defended using a zone approach--Brazil and Argentina had man to man elements to complement a four man zone.

From the very beginning, as soon as a goal was scored by Argentina, the Brazil goalie looked to sling the ball down to an open player and run a fast break.  Rarely was a big man clogging up the lane. Each team ran what in basketball is called a weave.  Very tall lanky coordinated athletes were catching the ball and leaping to slam the ball into the net. Sometimes they would come down, jump up again and then attempt to ram the ball past the goaltender.  In addition to the jumping and hurling there were some clever plays, behind the back passes, spin shots, shots attempted through the legs of the goaltender, and double pumps while in the air.

I was very impressed with the athleticism of both teams. And it was fun to sit in the stands with people dressed in powder blue stripes cheering for Argentina--and right nearby--gold dressed Brazilians. It was my good fortune to sit next to two Brazilian zealots.  This couple had traveled from Brazil to be at these games and they were fierce fans--the woman, more than the man who was as committed but less vocal.  I had no problem with the woman's incessant chanting, but a few of my neighbors asked her to calm down a bit.  For me, it was fun to watch a fan cheer so hard for her country. I mentioned to the couple that Brazil had beaten the Canadians to win the Gold. The fellow said the best thing was that they beat the Americans. When I told him I was an American he was a bit embarrassed, but I assured him that was fine.  We then talked basketball a while and this guy knew not only Handball, but basketball as well.

The game was tied with four seconds left in regulation when Argentina was called for a foul that awarded a Brazilian a penalty shot.  Penalty shots, I learned, almost always go in.  A player is within three yards of the goalie and goal and can slam the ball after faking a shot.  In the two games I saw maybe fifteen of these. Thirteen went in.  The Brazilian who was taking the penalty shot that would have guaranteed the Gold for Brazil, had taken several of these previously and made every one. This time, with the Gold four seconds away,  the Argentinian goalie made a great save, and the player from Brazil dropped into a sad sack puddle near the goal line.

Overtime consists of two five minute periods.  Very exciting.  Brazil was ahead by one, when their best player got ejected on a controversial play.  Argentina had a man advantage for two minutes. The Brazil coach was screaming at the officials. Despite the disadvantage, Brazil was able to thwart Argentinian advances, score a goal short handed, and win the Gold by two goals to the delight of my bleacher sitting neighbors and the yellow clad in the arena.

I am a convert. This was a very exciting game and I could see following this sport if I lived in a country where it was played.  Athletes are very, well, athletic.  Great ability to catch and run with the ball.  Some terrific body control. The goalies must have incredible reflexes.  The thing about the game is that it would be a good one for those with limited resources.  You only need this tiny ball and a couple of nets.  No equipment. Goalies don't even wear a mask or pads. You don't need an expensive racquet.  Just a ball a little smaller than a volleyball.

Brazil lost the trifecta as the US woman beat the Brazilians in volleyball last night.  Basketball and Handball Gold. Volleyball Silver.

 In addition to learning enough to get by as a Handball fan, I also learned enough about the subway system to get by and make it to my hotel before midnight.

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