Late heartache for Saudi Arabia in ‘crucial’ Asian Games handball draw with Japan

The Saudi Arabian handball team conceded twice in the final 96 seconds against Japan on Monday night to tie. (Courtesy of Asian Games)
Updated 20 August 2018

Late heartache for Saudi Arabia in ‘crucial’ Asian Games handball draw with Japan

  • Saudi Arabia are drawn with Japan, Iraq and reigning champions Qatar
  • With only the top two progressing to the semifinals, the result of the opening match with Japan was vital

JAKARTA: The Saudi Arabian handball team conceded twice in the final 96 seconds against Japan on Monday night to tie a match that coach Muhanna Al-Qamous had billed as crucial to their hopes of progressing to the Asian Games semifinals. Downcast, he said afterwards it felt more like a defeat.
Saudi Arabia, having coasted through the preliminary group stage, were drawn with Japan, Iraq and reigning champions Qatar in the secondary group stage.
With only the top two progressing to the semifinals, the result of the opening match with Japan was vital ahead of Wednesday’s clash with neighbors Qatar.
After an hour of play inside the GOR Popki Cibubur sports complex, it should have ended with Saudi smiles. Instead, with the final whistle blown at 26-26, there were shaking heads and disappointment.
“For us, we lost,” Al-Qamous told Arab News. “We led for the majority of the game, but we made some mistakes and paid the price. This is handball, these things happen and we still have a valuable point, but we are disappointed. We should have won. Our route to the semifinals now requires more work.”
Saudi trailed narrowly until the 18th minute, when left-wing Abdullah Alabbas scored from the 7-meter penalty line to draw his side level at 9-9. From that moment on, it only looked like there would be one winner, with Alabbas giving his side a three-point lead even after Hassan Al-Janabi had been dismissed. They finished the opening period with a 15-11 advantage.
“As I said before, this was the most important match for both sides,” said Al-Qamous. “We played very, very well during the match and were fighting all the time. We deserved to win, but some players got ahead of themselves, took risks in the hope of killing the game off, and it didn’t work. What can we do?”
The second period was equally as balanced, with both sides taking points in succession and the gap never growing greater than five.
Yet with just 15 minutes left and Saudi leading 21-16, Japan rallied, pulling it back quickly with three points in the space of three minutes. Center-back Yuto Agarie, pivotal in his side getting within two of a tie at 21-19, was instrumental again as his side eventually stole a 24-23 lead with just six minutes remaining.
Saudi soon regained their composure and took what appeared to be an unassailable 26-24 lead with a little under two minutes left on the clock. However 11 seconds later, and following a Japanese time-out, Agarie pulled one back before Testsuya Kadoyama converted a fast break opportunity to tie the game with 38 seconds left to play.
“The way we fought and led will stand us in good stead going forward,’ said Al-Qamous, who watched Qatar beat Iraq earlier in the day, although not by as comfortable a margin as many had predicted. They triumphed 26-20 to take control of the group.
“A place in the semifinals is still in our hands,” added Al-Qamous, who will lead Saudi at the World Championships next January in Germany and Denmark. “Iraq only lost to Qatar by six, so we know they are a good team. Maybe they will draw with Japan; that would definitely be the best result for us. But in this life, you must fight your own battles, not rely on others. That is what we will do, starting against Qatar.”

Group 1
Qatar 26-20 Iraq
Saudi Arabia 26-26 Japan

Group 2
Bahrain 29-23 Iran
Hong Kong 15-40 South Korea

Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

Updated 18 November 2018

Jaka Ihbeisheh’s heartwarming journey from Slovenia to Palestine — via football

LONDON: Jaka Ihbeisheh’s eyes glisten as he recalls the moment his father first watched him play for Palestine. While the midfielder’s path to the national team may have been unconventional, those feelings of pride on his debut were wholly natural. From western Yugoslavia to the West Bank, Ihbeisheh’s journey was fueled by a desire to rediscover his roots.
Ihbeisheh was born in Ljubljana in 1986 to a Slovenian mother and a Palestinian father, who met while the latter was studying medicine in Croatia. His parents separated when he was seven years old, however, and his father moved back to Palestine.
It would be 18 years before he saw his father again.
An early love of football developed into a career for Ihbeisheh, who played for a number of Slovenian clubs. But while he lived out his childhood dream professionally, in his personal life there remained a nagging question about the whereabouts of his father.

In 2013, Ihbeisheh finally decided to try to reach out to the man from whom he had been estranged for three quarters of his life.
“After getting married, I started to question more where I was from and what my father had been doing,” Ihbeisheh explained. “We still had an envelope at home with an address on it so I decided to write a letter to him asking him if he wanted to meet me.
“I wrote three letters — in Slovenian, Croatian and English — and to be honest I had no idea if I would receive a reply.”
A month passed by with no response but then one day Ihbeisheh opened his Facebook account to see a friend request from someone whose name was written in Arabic.
“It was a strange moment after all those years but the date of birth matched my father’s so I knew it was him. We started to talk on Skype first, in Croatian. I was amazed he could remember but he said that because he studied medicine in the language he had never forgotten it. He still used Croatian medical textbooks.


Jaka Ihbeisheh in action for Slovenian side Rudar Velenje. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)

“After a few calls, my wife and I decided the time was right to go and visit him in Palestine. A lot of people said things like, ‘Don’t go there you are crazy, you will get shot’ — but my father lived there and I wanted to go and visit him. I was not afraid.”
That first trip was fraught with nervous excitement as Ihbeisheh made his way to his father’s homeland via his aunt’s house in Jordan. The midfielder had read and heard about the potential difficulties of the crossing into Palestine and his own passage was not straightforward.
“The security at the border was very heavy and when they asked me where I was going, I said Palestine. He said, ‘No, to Israel’ and I said, ‘No, Palestine’. Then he separated me and my wife and a soldier came and took me into a room to ask a lot of questions.
“They asked about my life, my father, my work, my wife. They went on Wikipedia to check if I really was a Slovenian professional footballer. Then they called my wife inside — they were checking our stories matched. They asked my wife the name of my coach and fortunately she knew it. We were there for five hours in all.”
For Ihbeisheh it was glimpse into the border woes that are a regular part of life for Palestinians, though happier experiences were to come.

“When we got off the bus, my father and all his family were there waiting and it was very emotional. Of course, we had a big meal to celebrate.
“After that trip, I knew that if the opportunity came up I would want to play international football for Palestine. My father didn’t need to say anything for me to know how much it would mean to him.”
When Ihbeisheh returned to Slovenia, the thought of playing for Palestine was still on his mind but he had no idea how to put the wheels in motion. Then a fortuitous meeting with a Palestinian diplomat’s son opened the door. Six months later, Ihbeisheh received a text inviting him to be involved with the squad for the first time.
“My first game was a friendly in Dubai ahead of the 2015 Asian Cup and it was an amazing day. When the national anthem played, I was so proud. You meet the other players and hear their stories, then you understand why it means so much to represent Palestine.
“Since then I have come to play every time they call me. I love being part of this team.”


Jaka Ihbeisheh meeting hero Xavi, and on the sidelines of a Rudar Velenje game. (Photo / Twitter: @ihbeisheh)

Ihbeisheh went on to make a major impact at the Asian Cup in Australia, becoming the first Palestinian player to score at a major international tournament in a 5-1 defeat to Jordan.

But while that was a moment to savour, it paled in comparison to the first game he played in Palestine.
“It is a totally different occasion playing in Palestine. Everyone is supporting their country and they make incredible noise, they want to take pictures with us. We feel like heroes. It’s a shame that our home games are often moved away from our land and our people — I hope this stops.
“My first game there was a 0-0 draw with UAE in (the West Bank town) Al-Ram and of course it was the first time my father saw me play in Palestine. This was an emotional moment for him and for me. He said, ‘I was really proud to see you play but I am proud even when you are not playing. You are always representing your country.’
“The more I am called up to play for Palestine, the more I see him so, for us, football has an important meaning.”
That sentiment is true for many in Palestine, for whom football offers a temporary escape from difficult lives. Palestine may often appear to be a byword for conflict but Ihbeisheh has found the opposite to be true, the country uniting him with both his father and his heritage.
“I feel really sad about some of the things I hear, some of the experience my friends and family have. It is difficult to imagine for people like me who have always lived in Europe. You just hear the things on TV or radio but it is not the same as when my teammates tell me their stories.
“What each of them has gone through, and achieved, to play football for Palestine is inspirational. They know how football can help to give the supporters something, for a little bit of time they forget about all the worries. This is important to them, and me.
“I may not come from Palestine but when we are together as team-mates, there is no difference if you have lived your whole life in Palestine or outside of Palestine. We are all the same, we are family.”