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.”


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

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


Egyptian Premier League set for late summer restart amid coronavirus pandemic

Updated 05 July 2020

Egyptian Premier League set for late summer restart amid coronavirus pandemic

  • Al Ahly remain on course for yet another championship when matches resume
  • One aspect in which the Egyptian League will be familiar with would be the hosting of matches behind closed doors

DUBAI: The start of August will see the Egyptian Premier League become the latest football competition to resume the 2019-20 season after the interruption brought about by the spread of the Covid-19.

The league had been suspended since March 14, 2020 as fears of pandemic brought almost all sporting competitions around the world to a halt. Days earlier, it had been announced that the league would carry on behind closed doors, but that decision was quickly amended to suspend all matches indefinitely as the gravity of coronavirus spread became apparent.

But now football fans in Egypt can at last have something to look forward to, albeit through their television screens.

On Thursday, director of the Egyptian Football Association’s Competitions Committee Hossam El Zanaty announced that the season will now be completed over two periods, the first from Aug. 7 until the end of the month, and then from the start of September until completion of the season.

Unlike the UAE’s Arabian Gulf League, which was voided, but like the Saudi Professional League which restarts on Aug. 4, the Egyptian League will now provide a title-winning team, qualifiers to the continent’s Champions League, and relegation and promotion resolutions.

The timing of the return inevitably means there will be a knock-on effect on the start of the 2020-21 season. Egypt’s football calendar, like most nations, runs from August to May, and this announcement means that the forthcoming campaign will now be completed deep into the summer.

There is also the matter of playing out the remainder of the Egypt Cup competition, currently at the round of 16 stage, and any potential continental (CAF) competitions.

One thing that would have made the decision to restart in August easier is the recent announcement that the Africa Cup of Nations in Cameroon, scheduled for a January 2020 start, and running for a month, has now been postponed until the following year. With that particular disruption to the African domestic leagues - not to mention to many Asian and European teams with Egyptian players - no longer a factor, individual country associations will have more leeway to find the best solutions to complete their disrupted campaigns.

But while many league competitions around the world were comfortably over the halfway stage, and as such could be completed by squeezing the postponed matches over a period of several weeks, the Egyptian league was, for the majority of clubs, just 17 match days into a total of 34.

Currently, Al Ahly, who have won the league a record 41 times, lead the Egyptian Premier League table with 49 points from 17 matches, and remain on course for yet another comfortable championship triumph. Al Mokawloon Al Arab (Arab Contractors) in second are a distant second with 33 points from an extra match. Pyramids FC are in third with 32 points, also from 18 matches, while Zamalek, Al Ahly’s historic Cairo rivals, are a point behind in fourth (from only 16 matches played).

One aspect in which the Egyptian League will be familiar with would be the hosting of matches behind closed doors over the last eight years, though under vastly different circumstances.

Following the Port Said Stadium disaster in 2012, which saw the death of 72 Al Ahly fans in a riot after a match against Al Masry, a blanket ban on supporters watching league football was implemented by Egypt’s Ministry of Sports.

Three years later, 19 Zamalek fans were tragically killed after clashes with police as they attempted to force their way into a league match against ENPPI.

In 2018, the ban was eased somewhat to allow 5,000 fans to attend league and cup matches, while the public was allowed Egypt’s international matches and any club matches against other African teams.

Now, for health concerns, fans will once again have to bide their time before it is safe enough for them to return to football grounds.

Egypt has been one of the hardest hit African nations by the coronavirus pandemic, with a total of just under 75,000 recorded cases resulting in 3,280 deaths at last count by the World Health Organisation (WHO), while there has been just over 20,000 recoveries.

The return of the Egyptian Premier League will hopefully coincide with a drop in those numbers, and signal a return of some sort social normality to the country, and not just for its football fans.