BAHRAIN battled until the final seconds but had to settle for the silver medals yesterday following a narrow 31-33 defeat to champions Qatar in the final of the 18th Asian Men’s Handball Championship in Suwon, South Korea.
The Bahrainis claimed their third successive runner-up finish in the biennial continental tournament while the Qataris, whose roster is made up of mostly naturalised players, clinched their third straight title.
Bahrain came agonisingly close to pulling off an upset against their heavily favoured rivals. They stood toe to toe with the Qataris for more than three-quarters of the match, leading 17-16 at the half and even going ahead 22-20 on a pair of Hussain Al Sayyad goals midway through the final 30 minutes.
But Qatar made a late rally to take control of the contest, spearheaded by the play of French-born Bertrand Roine and Cuban-born Frankis Marzo.
Roine tied the proceedings at 24-all with 13 minutes remaining in the contest, and then Allaedine Berrached gave them back the lead for good with a goal on the ensuing play.
Back-to-back goals from Roine made it 29-25 a few minutes later, and then Bahrain got back to within 29-31 but no closer the rest of the way. Roine scored once more to extend their lead to three goals and then Qatar’s Bosnian-born goalkeeper Danijel Saric made a crucial stop on an attempt from Bahrain’s Ahmed Fadhul with less than two minutes to go.
Marzo then supplied the game’s final two goals for Qatar, closing out the match and finally ending Bahrain’s dreams of a maiden dreams of a maiden Asian crown.
Roine and Marzo finished as the top scorers for the gold-medallists with eight apiece. Tunisian-born Youssef Benali added five in the game, while Berrached and Syrian-born Kamalaldin Mallash chipped in with two each.
Fadhul paced Gudmundur Gudmundsson-coached Bahrain in the loss with seven goals. Ali Merza had six, Mohamed Habib finished with five, Al Sayyad scored four and Hasan Al Fardan added three.
Following the final, the Qatar and Bahrain were joined by South Korea in the medals presentation and closing ceremony. Bahrain Handball Association president Ali Isa was on hand along with other Bahraini officials.
The host Koreans managed to claim the bronze medals with a 29-21 win over Saudi Arabia.
All four nations including Bahrain, Qatar, South Korea and Saudi have qualified for the 2019 IHF World Men’s Handball Championship. The Asian championship has also acted as the continental qualifiers for the Worlds, which is to be played next January in Denmark and Germany.
Meanwhile, Bahrain’s Mahdi Saad and Hussain Al Sayyad were named to the team of the tournament. They both received special trophies for their selection.