BAHRAIN eked out a narrow 23-22 victory over Japan last night to end their preliminary round campaign in the 26th International Handball Federation (IHF) World Men’s Championship, being hosted by Denmark and Germany.
Ali Merza scored with five seconds remaining to help lift the Bahrainis to their first and only win of the competition after five tries. They had previously lost to Spain, Macedonia, Iceland and Croatia and headed into yesterday’s all-Asian affair in last place in group ‘B’.
But the nationals managed to come away with the fine result, earning them a shot at finishing as high as 17th overall or at the very minimum 20th in their final classification games. That would be their best-ever finish in the world championships in what is only their third-ever appearance in the biennial IHF event.
“We are satisfied with this victory and 20th place (or higher) is a step forward for Bahrain,” said head coach Aron Kristjansson, who is from Iceland. “Both teams were looking for a win and despite five games in seven days, we held our discipline. We managed to get into the game again and in the end, we had the luck.”
A disastrous opening stint in the third quarter for Bahrain saw Japan go on a 10-4 scoring run, including five unanswered goals that gave them a 19-14 advantage, but Bahrain brought it back to within one, 21-22, with just over a minute left.
After a foul from Japan’s Kenya Kasahara, Mohamed Habib made it all even from the seven-metre spot and then when Hiroki Shida hit the Bahrain post with 13 seconds left, the Bahrainis saw a golden opportunity and Kristjansson immediately called for a time-out. The veteran tactician got his team ready with a set-play which did the business as Merza smashed home from distance, firing in the game-winner.
The Japanese had a final desperation throw before the final buzzer but Remi Anri Doi’s shot missed.
Earlier in the contest, the Bahrainis had a 10-9 lead at the half.
Bilal Basham led the nationals with six goals, while Mohamed Habib and skipper Husain Al Sayyad had five apiece. Merza finished with four goals, while connecting on one apiece were Hasan Al Samahiji, Mohamed Merza and Mahdi Saad.
Player of the Match Hiroki Motoki scored nine goals to pace Japan.
Bahrain’s next opponents are yet to be known, but they will either be Russia or Serbia. Their next game will be played tomorrow.