Qatar’s Olympic hopes end with narrow loss to Bahrain
Bahrain's opponent in the final will be South Korea, who defeated Saudi Arabia in the other semifinal.
Qatar’s dreams of playing in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics came crashing down after they went down 26-28 to Bahrain in the semifinal of the Asian Olympic Qualifying Tournament at the Al Duhail Indoor Arena on Thursday.
In the final on Saturday, Bahrain will take on South Korea, who defeated Saudi Arabia 29-26 in the other semifinal.
Qatar’s bronze-medal match, against Saudi Arabia, will also be played on the same day.
The clash between Qatar and Bahrain was expected to go down to the wire and it did. Qatar-Bahrain encounters have always been keenly contested — the finals of the 2014, ’16 and ’18 Asian Championships as well as the ’18 Jakarta Asian Games are classic examples. And Qatar always emerged victorious, but this time the script changed.
Qatar started well with Wajdi Sinen (two goals) scoring in the very first minute. Sadly that was the only time the hosts led in the game.
Pivot Youssef Benali (two), who was rock solid in defence, received two back-to-back two-minute suspensions in the first half. He mellowed down considerably to avoid a red card and that made Bahrain adventurous. They scored at regular intervals. Qatar though were not too far behind trailing by just a goal at 15-16 at the break.
While Allaedine Berrached (seven) and Rafael Capote (six) kept Qatar in contention, right-winger Ahmad Madadi (five) was cunning and swift.
Bahrain maintained the slender lead in the second half, but Qatar equalised at 18-18. The hosts could not press home the advantage though. Instead, it was Bahrain who sped away to a three-goal lead at 23-20 with 12 minutes remaining.
While Ahmed Fadhul (eight) did the bulk of scoring for Bahrain, Mohamed Ahmed (five) gave him strong support. The game grew heated towards the end, and two Bahraini players were red-carded.
Mohamed Abdulredha was given the marching orders for a dangerous tackle on Sinen and Mohamed Merza was disqualified after accruing three two-minute suspensions.
That too could not help Qatar and they went down by a two-goal margin much to the disappointment of the thousands of fans who had filled the stadium. But in a show of sportsmanship, the hosts cheered for the victorious Bahraini team.
The winners of the Asian qualifiers earn a ticket to Tokyo. The runners-up will play another qualification tournament, featuring 2019 IHF World Championship runners-up Norway, seventh-placed Spain and Pan-American Games runners-up Chile.