Dubai: The UAE qualified for the World Men’s Handball Championship for the first time on Monday thanks to a best-ever performance in the on-going Asian Men’s Championship in Bahrain.
The Emiratis won a thriller 27-26 against Oman in their final Group A match at Khalifa Sports City Gym in Isa Town. The victory gave them six points from their five matches, courtesy of three wins and two defeats.
They then had an agonising wait to discover if that was good enough to earn them a place in the semi-finals as Qatar took on Japan in the concluding pool stage match. The UAE were relying on Qatar, who will host the 2015 World Championship, winning to deny Japan second place. And the Qataris duly delivered with a 33-26 victory that left them with a perfect five wins from five matches.
The UAE will now go on to meet hosts Bahrain in the last four on Tuesday at 5pm local time (6pm UAE). Qatar and Iran will clash in the other semi-final, but with Qatar already qualified for the World event as hosts, the UAE, Bahrain and Iran are now assured of filling the continent’s three remaining qualifying slots for next year’s showpiece. Iran will also be making their debut, while Bahrain have made one previous appearance at the biennial tournament in 2011.
Coach Julian Gomez’s side put on a superb show to edge Oman in a well-contested clash on Monday.
Skipper Khalid Mohammad led the UAE to a deserved victory, making crucial contributions in attack and defence as they took a 13-12 lead at the break.
Other key players for the UAE were Rahma Al Mansouri, Walid Al Beloushi, Marzouq Al Beloushi, Mohammad Al Beloushi and goalkeeper Mohammad Al Taher, who produced several fine saves to deny the Omanis and keep his side ahead in the closing stages.
The win meant the UAE, who started the tournament with consecutive defeats to Qatar and Japan, won three games in a row to book their semi-final place.
The UAE’s previous best finish in the Asian Championship was sixth, which they achieved in 1991, 1995 and 2004. They are among 11 teams to have secured their places at Qatar 2015, with reigning champions Spain joining the Asian contingent along with 2014 European Championship qualifiers Croatia, Denmark and France, plus Algeria, Egypt and Tunisia, who progressed from the 2014 African Championship.
The remaining qualifying places in the 24-team competition will consist of nine further European qualifiers, three from the 2014 Pan American Championship and one from April’s Oceania Championship.
The 2015 World Championship will be the 24th edition of the sport’s blue riband event, which is organised by the International Handball Federation (IHF). The final tournament will be held for the first time in Qatar from January 17 to February 1. The Qatari bid was selected over those of Norway, Poland and France after a vote by the IHF Council in January 2011 in Malmo, Sweden.