Bertrand Roine and Frankis Marzo scored eight goals each as Qatar produced a sensational late surge to overcome a tough challenge from Bahrain and complete a hat-trick of Asian Handball Championship titles here at the Suwon Gymnasium on Sunday.
In a match that would go down in history as a classic, Qatar won 33-31 after Marzo hit a purple match over the final 11 minutes that helped give them a decisive four-goal advantage (30-26) that proved the turning point.
Coach Valero Rivera had warned his players that title matches could throw up surprises, and the Bahrainis almost proved him right by staying in the match for its better part before Qatar were able to break free and make history of their own, having won the title in 2014 and 2016 too.
“Our team deserved to win the title. This achievement has not come from a vacuum but as a result of the hard work put in both by the team and the management over the past few years,” a visibly thrilled Rivera said after the final.
“I am very happy with this achievement and naturally proud of the players as they not only displayed tremendous stamina and discipline but were also technically better than any other team in the tournament,” he added.
Rivera conceded that Bahrain proved a tough customer.
“The game was not easy. I was not happy with the team’s performance in the first half. But in the second half we played well and managed to raise our game considerably and win the title.”
The Spaniard, however, added that no team deserved the title more than Qatar.
“There is no doubt that we are the best in Asia. Our third straight title proves it beyond doubt. Winning the Asian title was an ambitious project for us. I thank all the players for their efforts.”
Bahrain, who had suffered heartbreaks in the final in 2014 and 2016 editions of the tournament, were determined to avoid a third straight defeat and played out of their skins to dominate the early exchanges.
They were first on the scoreboard, and by the time the match was 12 minutes old, had taken a 9-6 lead forcing Qatar to play catch-up.
But Rafael Capote and Yousef Ben Ali rose to the challenge and cut down the lead to just one point. Bahrain, however, didn’t allow Qatar to sneak ahead at any point of time, with a goal by Jassim al-Salatna on the left wing with just a second remaining helping them take a one-goal advantage (17-16) into the second half.
Qatar were off the blocks in style when play resumed with a right-wing shot from Allaedine Berrached on an assist by Roine helping them pull level.
Roine then put Qatar 18-17 up, only for the second time in the match, with a seven-metre shot off an assist from Youssef Ben Ali.
The lead kept changing hands after that, but with the scores tied at 24-all in the 17th minute of the session, a fast break goal by Berrached from an assist by Ahmed Madadi put Qatar ahead once again.
At this point, Ben Ali produced a crucial steal, passing to Hassan Mabrouk, who stunned the Bahrain defence with another fast break goal as Qatar posted a two-goal lead (26-24) for the first time in the match.
Although Hussain al-Sayyad pulled one back for Bahrain with a 9m shot past goalkeeper Danijel Saric, Marzo soon restored Qatar’s two-goal advantage with a 6m shot (27-24).
With the clock ticking, the Bahrainis needed to come up with something extraordinary to prevent Qatar from running away with the match.
But that didn’t happen as Marzo literally turned into a one-man demolition squad, scoring three times more in as many minutes, including a brilliant effort from nine metres, to enable Qatar take a 30-26 lead.
Bahrain tried their best and pulled close (31-29), but a fine effort from Roine coupled with Marzo’s fifth goal in a matter of 11 minutes, gave Qatar a four-goal cushion (33-29).
With only a minute and two seconds left for the hooter to sound, Bahrain summoned their last reserves in a bid to produce something magical.
But they just managed two goals, the last one from Abdulqader Ali coming with six seconds on the clock remaining, as the Qatari camp erupted in joy.
Yousef Ben Ali with five goals and Berrached and Kamaleldeen Mallash with three apiece were the other main scorers for Qatar.
In the third place playoff, hosts South Korea defeated Saudi Arabia 29-21.