JAKARTA: Still wounded from Wednesday’s bruising defeat to Qatar, the Saudi Arabian handball team will return to the court on Friday to face Iraq in their final push to secure a place in the Asian Games semifinals.
Pivot Ali Al-Ibrahim was taken to hospital midweek after being kicked in the face during the Kingdom’s heated 28-23 loss, a match that included six yellow cards, a red and seven suspensions. However, with X-rays failing to find a fracture, Al-Ibrahim has been discharged and will be involved again at the GOR Popki Cibubur sports complex.
“Ali injured his nose, but he is OK,” said Saudi coach Muhanna Al-Qamous, who accompanied his player to the local medical center in southern Jakarta. “It was a tough game, but we knew it would be. Qatar are a high-level team, the world champions and with many professional players. Our performance was very good, but at moments our concentration slipped and against teams like Qatar you need to be focused for the entire 60 minutes.”
Saudi Arabia led from the start and it was indeed Al-Ibrahim who extended the lead twice as the Kingdom retained an advantage for much of the first half. Al-Ibrahim, who has yet to miss a shot this tournament, was suspended for two minutes in the 13th, allowing Qatar a route back in. The world champions turned it from 6-8 to 10-9 within the space of four minutes and then never gave up the lead for the remainder of the hour.
The result means Al-Qamous’s side go into the final Group 1 match knowing that nothing but victory will be enough — and even then it may yet not secure them safe passage. Saudi Arabia drew with Japan in their opening group match before Japan then defeated Iraq by three points 27-24. Saudi Arabia must then overturn the negative goal difference while hoping Qatar not only beat Japan but do so by a large margin.
“Losing to Qatar is not the problem, the problem we have is the result against Japan,” said Al-Qamous. “I said beforehand that we needed to win and the draw just made things more complicated. But let’s see how it goes. The most important thing is we beat Iraq. They have proven themselves as a good team, but we are ready.”
Al-Qamous believes that while his side are gradually improving by the game, they must be prepared to a face a team playing without pressure. Iraq, having narrowly lost both their matches, can no longer progress to the final four.
“Iraq will be competing without nerves. That gives us more responsibility, to use our experience and take control of the game and don’t let them enjoy it,” he said.
“Generally, we have been playing very well on this tour though. We played well against Japan and, despite the result, better against Qatar. You know, we are three months out of season and sometimes it takes a little while to warm up and gel together again. But what I am seeing is a team that is getting better and better. We hope to continue that gradual improvement and achieve our goal of booking our place in the semifinals.”
In Group 2 later on Friday, Iran will face Korea in what is essentially a play-off for a place in the semis against Qatar. Bahrain, having beaten both teams are already assured of topping the group, meaning it is they who will face Saudi should Al-Qamous and his team come through the contest victorious.