|This photo provided by the Korea Handball's Federation shows the unified Korean men's team before a practice match against a German club in Berlin, Saturday,in preparation for the world championship. Yonhap|
The unified men's Korean handball team will make its historic debut at the world championships in Germany this week.
Korea will face co-host Germany in the opening game of the International Handball Federation (IHF) World Men's Handball Championship at 6:15 p.m. Thursday in Berlin (2:15 a.m. Friday in Seoul). Denmark is the other host country of the tournament, which will run through Jan. 27.
This is the first international appearance by a joint Korean handball team, men's or women's.
Korea is in Group A with Germany (world No. 1), Russia (No. 4), France (No. 5), Serbia (No. 6) and Brazil (No. 27).
South Korea is No. 19, and North Korea isn't ranked.
On paper, Korea looks to be the heavy underdog in Group A. France is the two-time defending champion, while Germany will go for its first title since winning on home soil in 2007.
Groups B, C and D each have two nations ranked lower than South Korea, whose best world championship performance was an eighth-place finish in 1997.
After round-robin action, the top three teams from each of the four groups will advance to the main round. Those 12 teams will then be divided into two groups of six, and the top two from each will move on to the semifinals.
South Korea failed to qualify for the past two world championships in 2015 and 2017, and finished 21st in 2013.
South Korea earned the world championship spot this time by finishing third in the Asian championships last January. The two Koreas agreed to combine their teams in November.
South Korean Cho Young-shin is the head coach of the joint team, made up of 16 South Koreans and four North Koreans. Those 20 players started training together in Berlin on Dec. 22. They had an open training session last Friday, and played local clubs in practice matches on Saturday and Monday.
The rosters for the 24-team tournament are set at 16 players each, but the IHF allowed the pan-Korean team to add four players and compete with an expanded roster.
The opening match will be attended by Jong Bum-goo, South Korea's ambassador to Germany, and Pak Nam-yong, Pyongyang's top envoy to the country, among other luminaries. (Yonhap)