Two crucial goals in the last 45 seconds of the game enabled Al Kuwait to beat defending champions Al Najma 29-27 in a pulsating, thrilling final of the 39th GCC Clubs Handball Tournament at the Khalifa Sports City Arena last night.
The two teams had entered the final minute of the game with the score tied at 27-27 but Al Kuwait’s Portuguese right back Angel Hernandez sent a throw rocketing past Al Najma goalkeeper Mohammed Abdulhussain to put the Kuwaiti side ahead, 28-27.
Abdulhussain then threw the ball to one of his teammates but, as the Al Najma players made their way towards the Al Kuwait goal, the visitors’ coach, Marcos Olivera called a time-out with just 33 seconds left on the clock.
When play resumed, Al Najma’s Egyptian star, Hassan Qaddah had the ball. After his initial attempt to break through the Al Kuwait defence from the left side of the penalty area failed, the lanky player ran down towards the centre of the court and launched himself into the air to fire a bullet throw at the opposition’s goal.
Unfortunately for Al Najma, the ball rebounded off the left foot of Al Kuwait goalkeeper Ali Safar and bounced toward his teammate Saleh Ali, who raced down the court to send it soaring past Abdulhussain’s outstretched right hand and into the Bahraini club’s goal with just five seconds left till the final buzzer.
The Al Kuwait players ran towards each other in celebration as the buzzer sounded as the Al Najma players – and the massive crowd in the packed arena – looked on dejectedly.
No one looked more disappointed than Al Najma’s other Egyptian professional, Ahmed bin Ahmer, who had been outstanding throughout the game but failed to convert a penalty throw with the score tied at 27-27 and 90 seconds left till full-time.
“It was just not meant to be, in the end,” a disappointed Al Najma club president Shaikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Al Khalifa told the GDN after the game. “The game was in our hands. But I think the turning point came when, with about a minute-and-a-half left and the score level at 27-27, Ahmed Al Ahmer missed a penalty throw.
“After that, they went ahead by scoring one goal with less than a minute to go which created pressure on us to score the equaliser in the last 30 seconds of the game. When we couldn’t equalise, they scored the last goal to win by two goals.
“But the score-line was so close. For 60 minutes, you could never tell who was going to win this see-saw game. Sometimes, we led by one goal, sometimes, they led by one goal. And it was like that for the entire match but it all went wrong for us in the last minute-and-a-half.”
Earlier, the match had started in frenetic fashion, with five goals scored in the first five minutes with the scoreboard showing Al Najma ahead at 3-2.
By the time the game entered its 10th minute, Al Kuwait had edged ahead at 6-4. But, two minutes later, Al Ahmer and Qaddah enabled Al Najma to draw level at 6-6.
Hernandez put Al Kuwait ahead, 7-6, in the 13th minute and then, the game entered an extraordinary period of play with both sides unable to score for the next eight minutes before Al Ahmer helped Al Najma to restore parity at 7-7 in the 21st minute.
The athletic Adel Mohammed, then, put Al Najma in front at 8-7 but Al Kuwait drew level through Saif Al Adwani with the scoreboard reading 8-8 and eight minutes left in the first half.
Soon, both sides were tied at 11-11 with about six minutes to go but Al Kuwait pulled three goals ahead, courtesy of goals in quick succession by Frankis Marzo, Al Adwani and Mishal Al Harbi with the score, 14-11, and just two minutes to go till half-time.
Qaddah and Mohammed Habib then scored two goals for Al Najma to reduce the lead to just one point at 13-14 but Hernandez made it 15-13 for Al Kuwait before Al Ahmer scored a last-second goal that enabled the Bahraini club to go into the change room just one goal in arrears at 14-15.
Eight minutes into the second half, Al Najma managed to draw level again at 18-18 before Habib scored two consecutive goals to put them ahead at 20-18 with less than 19 minutes left till full-time.
Al Kuwait drew level again at 20-20, thanks to Ali and Vinicius Teixeira, and 17 minutes left, and then began the second extraordinary period of play in the game with first one side edging just one goal ahead before the other got their noses in front in turn.
Eventually, with nothing to separate the two teams as they entered the last two minutes of the game with the score locked at 27-27, it eventually came down to the tumultuous last 45 seconds of the match to produce a thrilling finale which resulted in joyous celebrations for Al Kuwait and heartbreak for Al Najma and their fans.
“I’m proud of the way the team played,” Shaikh Abdulrahman declared. “There’s no shame in finishing second. We won this cup last year and we’ve finished second this year. We came second in the Asian cup last year.
“So, if you reach the podium in a major tournament, it counts as success. A success story is not just about winning the gold. I think we have to be proud of the team’s achievement.”