Qatar players including Zarko Markovic (right), Hadi Hamdoon (second from right), Hamad Madadi (centre) and Rafael Capote (left) thank the crowd for their support after the win over Belarus yesterday. PICTURE: Othman al-Samaraee
By Yash Mudgal/Doha
Defending champions Spain and hosts Qatar registered victories to finish first and second in Group A of the 24th Men’s Handball World Championship yesterday.
Qatar overcame spirited Belarus 26-22 in its final group outing at Lusail Multipurpose Arena and will take on Austria in the pre-quarterfinals on January 25, while Spain defeated Slovenia 30-26 for its fifth win a row and would take on Tunisia in their pre-quarter-final clash same day.
Qatar had qualified for the pre-quarterfinals and was sure to finish second in the group after Spain, while Belarus had lost their last hope of reaching the last 16 with Brazil’s win against Chile earlier in the evening.
“Congratulations to Belarus who played very well in spite of no longer having the chance to finish among the four best teams in the group. That is never easy. We were not a team in the first half, but we were in the second half, and I am happy that we won even though we were sure to finish second no matter if we won or lost,” Qatar coach Valero Rivera said.
“The match was not unimportant, though, as it is important for us, to our country and to our fans that we do our best every time. Today we did not do that in the first half, but we did in the second,” he said.
In a game, where only the honours were at stake for both sides, the home team looked a bit shaky in the first half, trailing by five goals as Belarus got a better start and went up 4-2 followed by several further two-goal leads.
Towards half-time, the Belarusians even increased their lead to five goals at 11-6 which made Qatar coach Rivera take his second time out with two and a half minutes left for the break.
This did not prevent Belarus from going into the break with a five-goal lead at 12-7.
The aggressive Belarusian defence with left wing Ivan Brouka pushing forward in a 5-1 formation frustrated the Qataris who had difficulties in attack in the first 30 minutes.
In the second half, Qatar played much more like their previous matches and it only took them 10 minutes and 10 seconds to catch up with the Belarusian’s five-goal lead from half-time (14-14).
Exactly one minute later, the hosts even took the lead for the first time since 1-0, at 15-14.
The one-goal lead was extended to four, and even though Belarus managed to reduce the distance to two goals a couple of times, they never got any closer and at the end, Qatar took a four-goal win.
Right back Zarko Markovic, who is second in the leading goal-scorer list for the tournament, scored nine times for Qatar, while Dzianis Rutenka scored seven for Belarus.
“In the first half we stuck to what we had agreed upon. We did not in the second half, where too many players fell out of place and position, and that was the main reason why Qatar could take the win in the end,” Belarus coach Iorui Chevtsov said.
Earlier, both teams stood for a minute’s silence in respect of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, who passed away yesterday.
At Duhail Sports Hall, the scoreboard did not tick till the fifth minute when Spain scored their opening goal through the efforts of Cristian Ugalde against Slovenia. The Slovenes replied almost instantly with the equaliser. From there onwards the teams were exchanging goals at regular intervals.
One of the Slovenian goals was awarded to them through video technology, a first in the tournament.
The Spain’s second choice goalkeeper Perez de Vargas was brilliant in goal and was certainly the best player in the Spanish shirt in the initial stages of the match.
His Slovenian counterpart Primoz Prost, who initially was Slovenia’s second choice, was also quite good at repelling all those Spanish shots from every angle.
Spain increased their lead midway through the first half. However, the Slovenes showed their resilience and determination putting in a lot of efforts to reduce the gap.
At half-time, the Spanish, looking the better team with precise shooting, had a four-goal advantage at 14-10.
In the second period, the layout of the game didn’t see any radical changes with Spain leading and Slovenia trying to catch up.
Closer to the middle of the second half, Spain’s Gedeon Guardiola saw a straight red card for hitting Slovenia’s Dean Bombac in the face.
However, Spain kept a healthy four-goal advantage and maintained their superiority. Valero Rivera Jr., son of Qatar coach Rivera, was Spain’s top-scorer with six goals, while Gajic, Natek, Dolenec and Bezjak were the best in scoring for Slovenia with four goals each.
“Spain had better concentration and their goalkeeper was very good. Basically Spain won because of their individual qualities,” Slovenia coach Boris Denic said.
“We are satisfied as we know it is difficult to play against Slovenia. We were good in defence and scoring. Our goalkeeper was fantastic. I am happy with all the players,” Spain coach Manuel Cadenas said.
In a late match FYRO Macedonia claimed second place in Group B as the Balkan team celebrated a 36-31 win over Austria in the battle for the position behind Croatia, which will pit them against Slovenia in the pre-quarters.
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