Youth World Cup
By Christiaan Knobloch
Sport fanatics visiting Swakopmund this holiday season can look forward to something special. Players from Germany, Brazil, Austria, Switzerland, Chile and Namibia will make the SFC sport grounds the centre of the fistball universe for a couple of days when they take each other on to determine the winners of the boys and girls Fistball Youth World Cup. The event is scheduled to start on January 1, 2009 with the finals taking place on January 4.
Namibia is no stranger to international fistball competition and the Fistball Association of Namibia has played host to numerous international events. During 1995 the premier international Fistball event, the men’s World Championships were held in Namibia. More recently the Club World Championships, an event where the best club sides from Europe and South America meet Namibia’s best clubs, were held in Windhoek in 2000, 2002 and 2005. Namibia’s senior men’s teams have been regular participants at World Cups and other international competitions since 1972.
The U18 national team toured Europe in 2001 when Namibia received a special invitation to participate in the U18 European Championships. This special invitation was granted as no international competition existed for U18 teams for Africa and South America. This changed in 2003 when the first Youth World Championship was hosted in the Italian city of Bozen. Namibia participated and finished seventh, beating Denmark in the playoffs for seventh and eighth place.
Two years later it was the turn of Chile to host the event. A category for U18 girls was added to the tournament held in Llanquihue. Namibia once again participated with a boys’ team, but this time they did not manage a win ending last on the log - a result coach Andreas Minz and his team are working hard on not to repeat.
Preparations in full swing
Preparations have been in full swing since the start of 2008 with players and coaches spending a lot of time on the field and in the gym. While Namibia’s chances of winning a medal are probably farfetched, they might just be able to spring a surprise on one of their more experienced opponents now that they have home ground advantage.
A first for Namibia is the participation of an U18 girls’ team at an international event. Competition in this category is particularly tough as all the opponents Namibia will be facing have the benefit of having previously been exposed to international competition. Gaining experience is the main focus for coach Andrea Grögli and her players.
The title contenders for both the boys and girls titles are defending champions Germany. However Austria has a very successful youth development program which could help them reap the rewards. Brazil are the perennial favourites, sporting an athletic style of play. Their boys’ side were the losing finalists last time around while their girls finished third. Both will certainly have a point to prove.
The Austrian Fistball Federation has garnered fame in the international Fistball community with their efforts to spread the game to the farthest corners of the globe. The sport has found a home in places such as India, Pakistan, Nepal, Cyprus and Serbia.
On the field success has however eluded the Austrians for a very long time. Only recently has the continued focus on youth development and the professional approach to fistball reaped rewards. The Austrians are currently the holders of all major men’s titles. They are reigning World Games champions, European Champions and the World Champions. While they have not been as successful at U18 level yet, chances are that they will put in a good challenge for the title.
Germany is regarded as the home of modern fistball. Gymnastic coaches drafted the basic rules that are still fundamental to the game today, around 1890. From humble beginnings the game spread throughout Germany and other areas in Europe where gymnastics had a following at the time.
The first men’s World Championships were hosted by Germany in 1968. Their men’s national team is the most successful yet having won nine out of 12 world championship titles while the women have three world titles to show off. No wonder then that their U18 men and women’s teams are the reigning U18 world champions. They are once again tipped as favourites with both teams being a mix of experienced campaigners and newcomers to the international scene. In addition coach Hartmut Maus is no stranger to the Namibian conditions having coached the Namibian men’s team on numerous occasions.
The Brazilian teams are regular title contenders at international events. Their men and women’s teams are revered for their athleticism and spectacular style of play. Fistball has a long and proud history in the South American nation with the first games being played back in 1909. The Brazilians are also founding members of the International Fistball Association which was formed in 1960. They have also been frequent visitors to Namibia with the national team participating in the 1995 World Championships, while club teams from Brazil played at the World Club Championships which were held in Windhoek a few years back.
The men’s team has been crowned World Champions twice, in 1999 and 2003.
Meanwhile, the U18 men’s side has also not been a stranger to success, winning the first U18 World Championships held in Italy in 2003. After being relegated to second spot at the last championships they will no doubt aim to claim back the title while the U18 women’s team will want to improve on the third spot they won at the previous world championships.
Swiss club sides have been frequent visitors to Namibia participating in local tournaments while Swiss coaches have visited Namibia on numerous occasions sharing their knowledge with local coaching staff.
Although the alpine country is one of the top four fistball nations it has not been successful at winning titles. The senior women’s team managed what is arguably the greatest feat in Swiss fistball history by being crowned world champions in 2002. The U18 women’s side also enjoyed success after winning a silver medal at the first U18 World Championships.
The U18 men’s team will however be out to prove a point. After their last outing they were ranked fourth among the U18 teams, a position they will hope to improve upon in Swakopmund.
Chile hosted the last U18 men and women’s World Championships in 2006. While they are not regarded as one of the top fistball nations, the South Americans have time and again managed to select strong teams for international competitions which have regularly caused upsets against some of the more experienced teams. While the Chileans participated with U18 women and men’s teams at the last championships, only the U18 men’s team will be visiting Namibia.
More information on the tournament can be obtained at the official website www.faustballnamibia.com