Saudi Arabia under no illusions as to size of task after defeating Indonesia at Asian Games

Saudi Arabia's Abdullah Alhammad (L) controls the ball as Indonesia's Oni Sir Arianus defends during the Kingdom's 47-13 victory over the hosts. (AFP)
Updated 17 August 2018
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Saudi Arabia under no illusions as to size of task after defeating Indonesia at Asian Games

  • Victory over the hosts gifts Saudi Arabia top spot in Group C.
  • Manager Muhanna Al-Qamous still targeting a place in the semifinals.

JAKARTA: Schools were closed and the Indonesia president held a special ceremony to mark 73 years of independence, but the Saudi Arabian handball team were in no mood to hand out gifts on Indonesian National Day as they beat the Asian Games hosts 47-13 at the Gor Popki Cibubur sports complex.

The victory for Muhanna Al-Qamous’ side ensured they finish the preliminary group stage undefeated and top of Group C, one position higher than they managed four years ago in Incheon. They will now progress to the main round, where they join a group consisting of Japan, Iraq and reigning champions Qatar.

“We hoped that this would be an easy game, but you can never underestimate an opponent,” Al-Qamous, the Saudi team manager, told Arab News after watching his side dominate Indonesia throughout.
“It was their national day and the atmosphere was good — everybody was excited and the players were clearly happy to be playing in front of their home support. This was their day, but we had to be professional and I think the opposition knew it would be difficult for them to achieve something here.”

Indonesia had lost their opening match against Hong Kong 40-17 while Saudi Arabia had gone on to defeat Hong Kong 42-24. With strong performances by pivot Ali Alibrahim and center-back Mahdi Al-Salem — both of whom finished the tie with 100 percent shot-conversion rates — Indonesia were unable to put up much of a fight. Saudi raced to a 21-4 lead in the first period, before adding a further 26 as the hosts tired. 

“Two games and two wins. We can be very proud, but we must not get carried away. Now we will play against Japan on Monday and that match will, for me, be crucial to our hopes of reaching the semifinals. We know them well so it will be a difficult game for both teams, but we can be confident,” said Al-Qamous, who recalled losing to the East Asians in the third-place play-off at the 2016 Asian Championships.  

Japan only squeezed through to the second phase after drawing 26-26 with South Korea in their final group game. Iraq meanwhile lost to Bahrain, bronze-medallists four years ago, but defeated Chinese Taipei and India to progress. Qatar, who won their first Asian Games title four years ago by upsetting six-time champions and hosts South Korea in the final, have continued where they left off, with resounding wins over Malaysia and Iran.

Yet with the top two teams going through to the semifinals, Al-Qamous knows victory against Japan on Monday is crucial to easing their safe passage. And having competed at the World Championships eight times, he believes pressure will not be an issue. 

“It will be a difficult group, no doubt, but we are concentrating on reaching the semifinals again” he said.
“Whoever we play, we believe we can win, but the way the group is set up, that first game against Japan will be so key in my opinion. If we can win, we will face Iraq next knowing victory will put us in the semis. Everything will appear that much easier. The Japan match will decide the order. Inshallah, our experience will see us through.”


Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

Updated 21 July 2019
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Refugee swimmer Mardini rising fast after fleeing war

  • Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall
  • Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics under the refugee flag

GWANGJU, South Korea: Syrian refugee Yusra Mardini, who almost drowned at sea fleeing her war-torn country four years ago, heaved a deep sigh after failing to set a personal best at the world swimming championships on Sunday.
Representing FINA’s independent athletes team, the 21-year-old looked up at the giant scoreboard and winced at her time of 1min 8.79sec in the 100 meters butterfly heats in South Korea.
“I’m not very happy actually,” Mardini told AFP.
“I had some problems with my shoulder but I’m back in training. I still have the 100m freestyle and I’m looking forward to that.”
Mardini’s time was more than 12 seconds slower than that of reigning champion Sarah Sjostrom and 47th overall, but she has come a long way since risking her life crossing from Izmir in Turkey to the Greek island of Lesbos in the summer of 2015.
Thirty minutes into that treacherous journey, the motor on their dinghy cut out and the tiny vessel, carrying 20 people rather than the six or seven it was designed for, threatened to capsize.
As the only people who could swim, Mardini and her sister Sarah jumped into the water to push and pull the stricken dinghy for over three hours until they finally reached the shore.
“I arrived in Greece in only jeans and a T-shirt,” said Mardini, who also swims in the 100m freestyle later this week. “Even my shoes were gone.”
Mardini famously competed at the Rio Olympics a year later under the refugee flag.
“In the beginning I refused to be in a refugee team because I was afraid people would think I got the chance because of my story,” said Mardini, who now lives with her family in Berlin.
“I wanted to earn it. But then I realized I had a big opportunity to represent those people — so I took the chance and I never regretted it,” she added.
“Rio was amazing. It was really exciting to see the reaction of people to the team. Now I’m representing millions of displaced people around the world and it really makes me proud.”
It is a far cry from life back in Syria, where rocket strikes would often shake the pool she trained at in Damascus.
“There were bomb attacks sometimes that would crack the windows around the pool,” said Mardini, who has addressed the United Nations general assembly and whose story is set to be told in a Hollywood movie.
“We were scared the whole time.”
Fellow Syrian Ayman Kelzieh was also forced to flee the country before competing at the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon.
Returning to Korea five years later, the 26-year-old now owns a fistful of national swim records, including the 50m, 100m and 200m butterfly.
“When the war started I had just moved to Damascus and I couldn’t get back home to Aleppo,” said Kelzieh, who now lives on the Thai island of Phuket.
“But even in Damascus bombs sometimes even went off at the swimming pool we trained at,” he added after taking a poolside selfie with his idol, South African star Chad le Clos.
“There were even attacks at the hotel I stayed in — I was lucky.”