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
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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


Fernandinho is last line of defense as City face Watford test

Updated 20 September 2019

Fernandinho is last line of defense as City face Watford test

  • Pep Guardiola’s side are 5 points behind Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool

MANCHESTER: Fernandinho stepped seamlessly into Manchester City’s backline in midweek to ease Pep Guardiola’s defensive woes but the Premier League champions know their stretched resources will be tested by a physical Watford side on Saturday.

The clubs last met in the FA Cup final in May, with City romping to a 6-0 victory to complete the first-ever domestic treble in English football history.

But just four months later Guardiola, whose side are already five points behind Jurgen Klopp’s rampant Liverpool, is facing a serious headache at the back, with Aymeric Laporte and John Stones out for significant spells.

Frenchman Laporte, described as the best left-sided defender in Europe by Guardiola, is out until at least February after injuring knee ligaments in the recent win over Brighton.

That left Stones, whose start to the season was hampered by injury, as the only specialist center-half left to partner Nicolas Otamendi, a player who has not been an automatic first choice for some time.

England defender Stones, however, suffered a muscle injury in training and reports suggest he could be out for four to five weeks.

City appear to be paying the price for a curious strategy in the transfer market.

Over the past two years, they have shown strong interest in Virgil van Dijk and Harry Maguire, only to balk at paying what turned out to be world record transfer fees for defenders.

Van Dijk went to Liverpool for £75 million ($93m) while Maguire ended up at Manchester United for £80m.

Given the vast wealth of the City’s Abu Dhabi ownership, and the fact they have broken their own club transfer record in each of the past two summers, such caution when it comes to signing center-halves seems curious.

Guardiola also famously spent big on three fullbacks — Kyle Walker, Danilo and Benjamin Mendy — in a matter of days in 2017 which makes his, and City’s, refusal to compete with Liverpool and United for center-halves all the more baffling.

The upshot of their approach was that they failed to replace veteran club skipper Vincent Kompany, who returned to Belgium.

City’s refusal to go toe to toe with their rivals means they face Watford, and new manager Quique Sanchez Flores, with only Otamendi as a fit, specialist central defender.

Watford are bottom of the league but come into the match buoyant after recovering from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Arsenal.

At least Guardiola has a ready-made solution, with defensive midfielder Fernandinho playing at center-back for the midweek visit to Shakhtar Donetsk, where City won 3-0.

The City manager has long spoken of moving Fernandinho back into that position as his career draws to a close although his hand has been forced by the injuries.

“That’s why he is so important for us,” said Guardiola after the victory in his side’s Champions League opener.

“We don’t have many choices. I think he is the only one I have. Other players can play in that position but Fernandinho is a clever player and so intelligent — an incredible guy.

“He did well the first game he played. Of course he has a lot of experience and personality, and what he says the people follow him in the locker room so it’s important.”

Right-back Walker is another player who could move into the center of defense in an emergency but, with Fernandinho in the veteran stage of his career now at 34, Guardiola is one injury away from a full-blown crisis.