Posted on October 04, 2014

It was redemption time for Qatar as they buried years of heartache in Asian Games handball by finally nailing the gold medal at the Seonhak Handball Gymnasium here on Thursday.

Qatar had missed out on the gold at the Doha Asian Games in 2006 when they were beaten by Kuwait in the final. Four years earlier in Busan, they had to be content with the bronze. Coach Valero Rivera once again proved a master strategist yesterday – this time choking the nippy South Koreans with a watertight defence – as Qatar ground out a gritty 24-21 victory to confirm their status as the best team in the continent after having won the Asian Championship in February this year. Qatar led 12-11 at half-time.

It was the 10th gold medal for Qatar in Incheon, their best achievement at the Asiad ever since they took part in the event for the first time in 1982 in New Delhi where they had bagged a lone bronze. Qatar’s previous best was nine gold medals, coming in Doha eight years ago. Rivera, who was poached from Spain after he took his home country to the world title, simply couldn’t do any wrong in the South Korean port city, coming up with a different game plan against each opponent to emerge smelling of roses with a 100 percent win record in the hectic tournament.

 “It feels good to be the Asian Games champions. After we won the Asian Championship in Bahrain, we were confident about winning the Asian Games title too,” the Spaniard said.  “The two titles will do a world of good for the team when they take part in the World Championship in Qatar next January.” Rivera said Qatar had no option but to boost their defence against the South Koreans, historically the best team in Asia with a record six titles won at the Games.

 “I adopt a different strategy against each country. The Koreans are used to a fast-paced game. They have great speed. It was inevitable therefore that we had to focus more on the defence.”  The match turned out to be a battle of attrition as a result – the Koreans often finding their way into Qatar territory only to suddenly get stuck. However hard they tried to break free – with quick, short passes and near-acrobatic interchanging of positions – they were often unable to pierce the Qatar ‘wall’.

 Eldar Memisevic opened the scoring for Qatar in the first minute and although South Korea equalized quickly through Eom Hyo-won, what followed was a tense five minutes during which no team managed to make any headway. With the match seemingly going nowhere with the Koreans, too, adopting a defensive approach, it was time for Bertrand Roine – Qatar’s top scorer with six goals – to take matters into his own hands.

Qatar Airways DC

Instead of trying to break into the seven-yard area and get tangled up with the Korean backline, Roine produced blinding low throw that beat the South Korean goalkeeper Lee Chang-woo. Lee, however, acquitted himself well later with several stunning saves without which the fight would have gone out of the Korean side in the first half itself. There was precious little separating the teams who exchanged leads at regular intervals – although by no more than a point or two.

Trailing 7-9, Qatar’s Hamad Madadi missed two sitters, resulting in a barracking from coach Rivera. Madadi, however, managed to register his name on the score sheet with his next attempt to help his team cut the lead. Mahnoud Hassaballa and Roine then got their act together to help Qatar inch 12-11 ahead at the interval. The second half also progressed along a similar pattern, with one team enjoying a sender lead and the other team catching up soon and themselves going ahead.

At 19-19 and with just eight minutes remaining, the match was too close to call, but Rafael Capote and Memsevic found the target in quick succession to put Qatar two points ahead. And although Yu Dong-guen reduced the gap in the 57th minute, Youssef Benali, Roine and Hasaballa struck in quick succession to put the issue beyond doubt. Memisevic and Benali followed top scorer Ronie with five goals each, while Yu and Park Jung-geu netted four apiece for South Korea

Qatar Handball Association president Ahmed Mohamed al-Shaabi was thrilled with the gold medal win, saying it would motivate the team to perform well at the World Championship. “Finally we have won the gold medal. I thank HH the Father Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and HH the Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani for all their help and support,” al-Shaabi said. “This victory will go a long way in building the confidence of the team when they take part in the World Championship.”

 Earlier, Bahrain defeated Iran 28-25 to clinch the bronze.