HANDBALL – Bahrain and Kuwait battled to a 28-28 draw in their first main round Group Two game of the 21st Asian Men’s Handball Championship last night with both goalkeepers pulling off dramatic saves in the last few seconds of the game in front of a full house at the Khalifa Sports City Hall.
As the match headed into its final four minutes, Kuwait looked likely winners as they led 28-26 with the Bahraini defence – which was not at its best last night – constantly under attack.
But, in the 57th minute, Mohamed Habib fired a bullet throw past Kuwait goalkeeper Hassan Safar to bring Bahrain one goal closer to their opponents’ tally.
As the clock ticked towards full time, both sides tried, and failed, to score and when the game entered its 60th and final minute, Bahrain still trailed 28-27.
Then, Ali Merza, who had been outstanding all night, managed to score the equaliser, dodging two defenders as he dived to his left and unleashed a rocket-like throw that whizzed past Safar with 45 seconds left on the clock.
The crowd erupted, the Bahrain players celebrated enthusiastically but Kuwait now had possession and there was still enough time for them to be able to score the winning goal.
Yet, over the next 35 seconds, Kuwait were held at bay by the Bahrain defence, which appeared to have started working in cohesion for the first time in the evening.
With 10 seconds left, possession with his team and a free throw to be taken just yards from the Bahrain penalty area, the Kuwait coach called a time-out.
When play resumed, Kuwait went on the offensive straightaway but Mohamed Abdulhusain managed to stop a throw that seemed to be heading straight into the Bahrain goal and threw the ball to Merza, who sprinted down the right of the court and fired it at the Kuwait goal only for Safar to make a desperate, lunging save to his left just before the final buzzer sounded.
“This was a very, very tough game,” Bahrain head coach Aron Kristjannson told the GDN about the match which had seen Kuwait leading 18-16 at half-time.
“Kuwait set the tempo from the beginning and we made too many mistakes in our defence. I think, in the last 10-15 minutes, our defence got better but we were still missing chances and making mistakes.
“But, overall, the team put up a big fight and we received great support from the home crowd. I must thank the fantastic fans for their support and hope they will show up again tonight for our game against Iraq.”
The Bahrain-Kuwait draw was the second game to be drawn yesterday, with the earlier Group Two encounter between Iraq and South Korea at the same venue ending with the scores tied 22-22.
And, in a crucial Group One tie yesterday, defending champions Qatar had the better of the UAE 25-21 while the second Group One game yesterday saw Japan pip Iran 25-23.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia beat New Zealand 46-27 in their first Group Three game at the Bahrain Handball Federation Hall yesterday while Chinese Taipei defeated Hong Kong 40-19 in the other Group Three game at the same venue.
And, in Group Four, China beat India 46-25 while Oman narrowly prevailed over Kazakhstan 30-29 in the second Group Four game with both matches also taking place at the Bahrain Handball Federation Hall.