Qatar players celebrate their win over Poland in the 24th Men’s Handball World Championship semi-final at Lusail Multipurpose Arena yesterday. PICTURES: Jayan Orma
By Yash Mudgal/Doha
Qatar and Valero Rivera’s ‘dream’ continues at the 24th Men’s Handball World Championship.
Yesterday, in the first semi-final at Lusail Multipurpose Hall, the hosts continued their historic run when they beat Poland 31-29 in front of an ecstatic crowd to become the first non-European side ever to reach a world championship final.
Before this tournament, no other Asian team had gone beyond the quarter-finals, while only two African sides – Tunisia and Egypt -- had ever reached the semi-finals.
Qatar will meet Olympic and European champions France in the final.
“As I said earlier, to reach so far in the championship is a dream for us and I am happy that it’s continuing,” Rivera said.
He gave full credit of the victory to the hard work by the players. “It was a team effort. We have given our 100 per cent in all the matches and happy to see the boys are playing. I am very, very happy for the country,” he said.
“We had talked about the need for a two or three goal lead at half-time as we knew that so far in this tournament, Poland had won the second-half in all their matches, except against Denmark and Croatia, against whom they drew in the last 30 minutes.
“Therefore, we expected the task to be impossible, if we did not lead by two or three goals at half-time, but fortunately we did, and we managed to make it to the end, though Poland played very, very well,” the Spaniard said.
The hosts, who went into the tournament ranked 36, had said at the beginning of the event that their aim was to reach the last eight.
Poland started better, but Rivero’s decision to introduce goal-keeper Danijel Saric in place of Goran Stojanovic changed the tide for the hosts in the last 10 minutes of the game.
Qatar opened the match with aggressive defense, but it provided Poland’s line player Kamil Syprzak room to score first two goals for the visitors. This made Rivera move his defense a bit back soon and this gave opportunity to other Polish players.
Within the first quarter, Poland already had three two-minute suspensions, while Qatar had none, but nonetheless Poland managed to take lead. Polish defence was so strong that Qatar’s top scorer Zarko Markovic (60 goals) scored only once in the first half.
Left back Rafael Capote was the only Qatar player to cause the Polish defense some trouble in that first phase of the match, scoring four goals.
As half-time approached, Saric saved some goals and with seven and a half minutes left in the first half, Qatar managed to take the lead for the first time at 12-11.
That lead was extended to 13-11 and 15-12, as Qatar took the upper hand in the last minutes of the first half. The hosts went into halftime at 16-13.
Qatar continued increasing their lead in the second half when they made it to 21-16 before Poland managed to crawl closer. But they never got any closer than being two goals down.
“In the last ten minutes of the match, the decisions from the referees went in favour of the hosts, but I think our team can be proud of our performance and our will to fight, and now we are aiming for the bronze medal,” said Poland centre-back Piotr Maslowski.
Capote and Kamaladin Mallash scored six goals each for the winners.
“I feel so proud to be part of this team, we are in the final. Incredible! We have worked so hard to reach this far and now we can continue our dream,” Qatar line player Borja Vidal said.
Left back Michal Jurecki, who netted nine for Poland, said: “I have highest respect for the fighting spirit of my team. On Sunday we will have to fight for bronze medal and we are eager to return home with the medal.”
Qatar coach Valero Rivera guides his players during the semi-final against Poland yesterday.
Qatar fans celebrate the semi-final win over Poland yesterday.
Qatar’s Rafael Capote (second from left) looks to score against Poland yesterday. Capote scored six goals.
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