Saudi Arabia handball team in confident mood as Asian Games gets ready for the starter's gun

The Saudi delegation have been getting acquainted with the athlete village. (Asian Games)
Updated 16 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia handball team in confident mood as Asian Games gets ready for the starter's gun

  • Continental festival of sport to officially start tomorrow in Jakarta.
  • Saudi Arabia handball team face hosts Indonesia today.

JAKARTA: The Saudi Arabian handball team are getting cold feet at the Asian Games, but it has nothing to do with today’s match with hosts Indonesia for a place in the knock-out round — it is because their legs hang off the end of the bed in the athlete village. 

The Kingdom has brought 169 athletes to Jakarta and Palembang for the world’s second-largest multi-sport event, which officially starts tomorrow and runs until Sept. 2. Some sports, such as handball and football, start several days ahead of the opening ceremony because of the number of participating nations and the need for adequate recovery days.

The athlete village, built on 10 hectares of land, has 7,424 apartments spread across 10 towers and accommodates more than 22,000 athletes and staff. Yesterday, as each of the 45 member countries of the Olympic Council of Asia were officially welcomed into the $238 million complex, flags from countries such as North Korea and Jordan, Chinese Taipei and Iran, hung from various windows and balconies.  

Following a brief traditional dance by costume-laden Indonesian women, the Saudi Arabian delegation was invited into the central plaza alongside representatives of Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, the UAE and Brunei. As each country’s national anthem played from the sound system, the Indonesian military raised the flags. A drone, operated by one of seven Saudi in-house photographers, buzzed overhead.

“It is very exciting to be here; a highlight in our careers, not only for the athletes, but us coaches too,” said Muhanna Al-Qamous, the team manager of the Saudi handball team, shortly before Prince Fahad bin Jalawi Al-Saud exchanged gifts with the Indonesian organizers. 

“When you see your country’s flag, it is something very different. I feel proud, but it also makes you realize you are representing your country. The athletes here will leave with a different perspective, I think. From the outside you can sense it, but from being here inside the village and among the other countries, it is different. Very special.”

The village boasts table tennis and pool tables, a laundry service, WiFi, high-spec gymnasium and various shops and stalls selling everything from ramen noodles to baseball caps and wood-carved souvenirs. Indonesia’s first beauty truck, painted bright pink, sits near to the plaza offering hair and makeup services to the female athletes, of which Saudi Arabia has brought eight.

“The village is very nice, really. Indonesians are very small, so the accommodation is a little small — the athletes feet hang out the bed and if they use the blanket to cover their feet, their shoulders stay bare,” Al-Qamous added, laughing. “But in general, it’s a very good atmosphere and we have enjoyed a very hospitable welcome from the Indonesian people.”

At the London Olympics in 2012, beds were only 1.72 meters but by Rio four years later they were two meters, extendable to 2.3m. Here in Jakarta, the beds are closer to London sizes, deemed “too small” and “not in good condition” by Ali Alibrahim, a member of the handball team who measures 181 cm.

“The village is nice, but not very nice,” added Mohammed Al-Nassfan (185 cm) , a teammate of Alibrahim. “There is not much to do here. There are no TVs in the bedrooms, but I have just bought a local sim card with data, so now I am happy.”

Alibrahim scored four points as Saudi Arabia won their opening game 42-24 against Hong Kong on Wednesday. Against Indonesia today, they will hope for more of the same in their quest to take home a gold medal. 

“We have a team here that can win when the moment comes,” said Al-Qamous, who has already helped his country qualify for the Men’s Handball World Championships next January in Germany and Denmark. “We did well against Hong Kong, so we know now that if we beat Indonesia, we can qualify for the second round. Our immediate target is to get the semifinals, but of course we intend to leave with medals.”

Anybody who watched the opening game of this summer’s World Cup will be aware that playing the hosts brings it own challenges. Saudi Arabia lost 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow, but Al-Qamous does not expect a repeat of such a capitulation of character.

“Indonesia lost their first match so they will be determined to win,” said coach Al-Qamous. “But our team has great experience and will not be fazed by the atmosphere of playing the hosts. For sure Indonesia will have strong support, but our players are used to playing in front of big crowds. In Saudi Arabia, handball is the second most popular sport after football and we have qualified for the World Cup nine times, so this is nothing new to us. When the big clubs play league games back home, we can see more than 6,000 spectators in the arena.”
Al-Nassfan, with data-filled mobile phone in hand, simply added: “We feel no pressure. We will have an easy win, inshallah.”


A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

Updated 20 March 2019
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A HAT-TRICK OF HOPES: What the UAE and Saudi Arabia should be looking for from their friendly

  • Can the Whites and Green Falcons find the back of the net more often?
  • Both teams need to set the tone ahead of the important World Cup qualifiers.

LONDON: Ahead of Thursday’s friendly between the UAE and Saudi Arabia Arab News looks at the main priorities for both sides as they embark on their new eras after the Asian Cup and ahead of the all-important the World Cup qualifiers.

FIND THOSE SCORING BOOTS

For the past 18 months both sides have struggled for goals. Under Alberto Zaccheroni the UAE scored just 10 goals in the past nine matches — five of those coming against lowly Kyrgyzstan and India — and likewise the Green Falcons have also struggled to find the back of the net. Heading toward the World Cup qualifiers, now is the time to find those scoring boots.

PUT ON A SHOW

Both sides have technically gifted players, can keep the ball and at times trouble opposition defenses. But both have been too defensive, too safety-first and, at times, too dull. Football is supposed to be entertainment, and the friendlies ahead of the World Cup qualifiers might be no bad time to throw caution to the wind and see what the players can do in the final third.

SET THE TONE

As the modern cliche goes, a week is a long time in football. With all the sackings and player movements, it is not hard to see the kernel of truth in that overused saying. But, conversely, time can also move very fast in the “Beautiful Game.” It may be six months before the World Cup qualifiers begin, but it will be September before the coaches and players know it. Set the tone and tactics now and triumphs will be easier to come by then and, more importantly, further into the future.