Iran defeats Japan in dramatic semifinal – plays Korea in the final

It was perhaps anticipated that the semifinal Iran-Japan would be a very close game, but the Japanese seemed to move ahead towards an easy win when the score was 13-7 after 20 minutes. However, by the intermission the Iranians had almost caught up (15-16), and then the entire second half was a 'seesaw' battle. Iran scored the final goal for a 30-29 win during the very last minute.

In the final on Saturday, the Iranians will want to seek revenge for the 27-32 loss against Korea in the group play. Korea had absolutely no problem with Saudi Arabia in the other semi-final, winning comfortably with 41-19. Perhaps the Saudis expended all their energy on the final day of the group play, where their fate depended on other teams, or perhaps they simply were not good enough in comparison with the real top teams. But at least they will get a second chance to win against Japan in the bronze medal game.

The women's groups were finalized today, without any surprises. R.O. Korea defeated Kazakhstan with 25-17 and China had the upper hand against Japan, 25-19. This means that the semifinals on Thursday will have the matchups Korea-Japan and China-Kazakhstan. This will be followed by the medal games on Friday, just as for the men.

After the completion of the women's groups, it is now also clear that Taipei and D.P.R. Korea will square off for 5th place, while India and Thailand will play for 7th place. On the men's side, the neighbors Qatar and Bahrain will fight it out for 5th place, whereas China and Kuwait will have to be content with a battle for 7th place.

Asian Games — Japan-IR Iran and R.O.Korea-Saudi Arabia in the men’s semifinals

Yesterday it became clear that Iran would join Korea as the top teams from men’s group B. Today, the fight for the remaining two slots was settled through the matches. Japan won the first game against Saudi Arabia with the surprisingly clear margin of 36-28. This seemed to put the Saudis in an almost hopeless position. But the next match, Qatar-China, ended with a 25-25 tie, i.e., exactly the result that helped the Saudis into the semifinal.

Group A: JAPAN 8 pts, SAUDI ARABIA 7 pts, Qatar 7 pts, China 6 pts, India 2 pts, Mongolia 0 pts
Group B: KOREA 8 pts, IRAN 6 pts. Bahrain 4 pts, Kuwait 2 pts, Hongkong 0 pts.

On the women’s side, it is becoming obvious that R.O.Korea and Kazakhstan will qualify from one group, while China and Japan so far have lived up their favorite roles in the other group. The only remaining obstacle is for China to defeat D.P.R. Korea tomorrow.

Finally, back to the men’s competition, it should serve as encouragement for the future when India in the final group match, after four straight defeats, were able to crush fellow newcomer Mongolia with 56-22.

Asian Games – Refereeing ‘issues’ reappear

It has been an unfortunate ‘tradition’ for many, many years that manipulation through the refereeing has been a topic in continental Asian competition. The worst example was presumably the events in the qualifying tournaments for the 2008 Olympic Games, especially the infamous men’s game Korea-Kuwait. Therefore, last February in the Asian Championships, which served as qualification for the men’s World Championship next January, it was a pleasure to note a complete absence of accusations and controversy.

But now it seems that it might be ‘back to normal’ again. In a key game yesterday, Bahrain played Iran, and after Bahrain’s earlier loss to Korea in the group play, this was the last chance for Bahrain to qualify for the semifinals. It was a close game, but reports from the Danish coach for the Bahrain team suggest that, in the second half, the strange referee decisions deprived Bahrain of any chance to win the match. There are comments from the coach both in Danish media and in the ‘Gulf Daily News’. The coach admits that, to make things worse, his players were unable to ‘keep a straight face’ and lost their concentration in their frustration over the refereeing decisions.

Of course, even against the background of the ‘traditions’, one would not want to jump to conclusions on the basis of views from the coach of the losing team. But I have now obtained opinions from neutral observers who are present in Guangzhou, and their reports suggest that the problems were in fact greater than the coach is stating. It seems there was a clear impression that the referees acted under some kind of pressure, and that their decisions sometimes seemed related to the result of the match at a given moment.

However, the real and undisputed indication the Asians are acting without scruples is the following: at the time of the legal process following the infamous Korea-Kuwait match, culminating in a Tribunal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), the IHF took a clear decision that [u][/u]the referees in the match would be permanently banned[u][/u] from refereeing at the international/continental level. Indeed, I personally confirmed this position, with the Asian leadership present, when I was the IHF witness in the Tribunal. But when now there is an Asian event, without any external supervision from the IHF as there is no qualification for IHF events involved, [u][/u]it is shocking but perhaps not entirely surprising to detect that the Asians have taken the opportunity to nominate one of these Jordanian referees for the Asian Games[u][/u]. With his partner, he refereed a key game between China and Saudi Arabia a couple of days ago!

In my mind, this demonstrates an attitude of total disregard for IHF decisions, for the worldwide opinion and image, and for any sense of decency. One can only hope that matters do not go further downhill from here on, during the Asian Games and in future events….

On a happier note, it is interesting to note the strong coverage in major media in India for the efforts of their inexperienced and so far winless men’s team. Here are some links:

Tomorrow is the start of the women’s competition. The standings in the men’s competition so far are:
Group A: all teams with 3 games: Qatar 6, Saudi Arabia 5, Japan 4, China 3, India 0 and Mongolia 0. Group B: Korea 8 points after 4 games; all other teams with 3 games: Iran 4 points, Kuwait 2, Bahrain 2 and Hong Kong 0.

Asian Games — results on the opening day

The handball tournament in the Asian Games in now underway. As I anticipated earlier, there were several 'mismatches' between experienced teams and weaker opponents but also a couple of closer games.

In Group A, Qatar defeated Japan by 33-27, after 17-17 at half-time. By contrast, Saudia Arabia crushed Mongolia by 69-17and China had an easy time defeating India by 41-21.

In Group B. Bahrain showed good form in preparation for the World Championship, by beating the long-standing rival Kuwait by 27-25 after a strong second half. Rep. of Korea had little difficulty in beating Hong Kong by a clear margin, 52-13. Iran had a bye on the first day in this group.

One of our friendly readers in Korea also helped us with the information that Kazakhstan has been added as a last-minute entry in Women's Group A. Yes, it did seem a bit surprising that the Kazakh women would not participate, considering their strength in recent years.

Asian Games Official Website (Handball Schedule and Results):

Handball in the Asian Games

As I am trying to recover from the shock after having seen John Ryan contaminate our web site a couple of days ago by talking about some kind of nonsense activity, that regrettably has not been stamped out or at least banned from its outrageous use of the label ‘handball’, I will try to get all of you, and myself, back on track with the real thing.

The 16th Asian Games had their opening ceremony in Guangzhou, China, on Friday and the handball competition will start on Saturday, at least as far as the men are concerned. The Asian Federation’s web site has offered very little information, whereas some other web sites have shown contradictory information regarding tournament format and playing schedule. It seems relatively certain, however, that the competition will start with the following preliminary groups:
Men A: Qatar, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia, India and Mongolia;
Men B: Kuwait, Iran, Rep. of Korea, Bahrain and Hong Kong;
Women A: Rep.of Korea, Taipei, Thailand and Qatar;
Women B: Japan, China, India, P.D.R. of Korea;

The first day of competition has a couple of intriguing match-ups, Kuwait-Bahrain and Japan-Qatar. While the women’s brackets seem to be leading up to rather predictable results, the men’s side should offer a really strong fight for the positions in the medal round. Korea, Japan and Bahrain are in the midst of their preparations for the World Championship in Sweden in January, but several of the other participants are likely to want to show that they are at least as strong. Title defender is Kuwait who won the final against Qatar in 2006.

The participation of Kuwait is somewhat ‘mysterious’. Early in the year, the IOC suspended the Kuwait Olympic Committee. Soon afterwards, some international sports federations, including the IHF, decided to follow this example on an entirely voluntary basis, so the Kuwait Handball Federation was suspended. There have been no indications that these bans are being lifted. And for instance, a strong Kuwaiti referee couple apparently could not be considered for participation in Sweden. However, in some rather absurd way, it appears that the Kuwaiti team was given permission to participate, but on the condition that the flag of the country could not be used!!! The IOC has sometimes given individual athletes the right to participate in Olympic events, on a ‘stateless’ basis and under a neutral flag. But it does seem quite weird that a team can represent its suspended federation under the name of its country… Perhaps we will get a plausible explanation one day!?

The Asian Games have become a major event in China, in the aftermath of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, with vast amounts of modern facilities, not just for the official 28 Olympic summer sports but for a very interesting spectrum of other sports. Americans may find it interesting that baseball is on the program, although of course baseball is these days much more a sport for Asian and Latin American start players than an ‘American pastime’; and then in all fairness, cricket is also on the program. Rugby and squash are undoubtedly intrigued about having a chance to participate. Bowling and chess have also been given an opportunity, and it may not be difficult to understand why dragon boat racing is on the program. More unknown internationally are sebaktakraw and kabbadi, but at least kabbadi seems to have some similarities with handball, especially in the sense of training movement without the ball.

As results become available from the handball tournament, we will try to provide some updates, at least for the purpose of washing that awful taste out of our mouths following John’s serious sabotage.

Japan grabs the remaining World Championship slot in overtime thriller!

After an intensive fight that went into overtime, the Japanese team managed to win the bronze medal game and thus secured their participation in the 2011 World Championship.
The final result was 33-30, following 27-27 after 60 minutes. The hero of the match was Daisuke Miyazaki, who scored 12 goals. He plays professionally for Alcobendas in the Spanish league.

The Asian Championship final, with two teams that had already secured their World Championship tickets, was won by Korea over Bahrain with the score of 32-25. One must assume that the Bahrainis were nevertheless happy with their performance, having qualified for the World Championship for the first time ever.

Congratulations to the medal winners and WCh qualifiers, Korea, Bahrain and Japan; and congratulations to Asian handball, after an event carried out in a positive atmosphere and with good sportsmanship. The refereeing was [u]not[/u] an issue this time!

The overall final ranking is: [b]1. Korea, 2. Bahrain, 3. Japan,[/b] 4. Saudi Arabia, 5. Qatar, 6. Syria, 7. Iran, 8. Lebanon, 9. China, 10. Iraq, 11. U.A.E., 12. Jordan.

VIDEO: Sensational finish wins Bahrain tickets to Sweden 2011

In today’s semi-final between Bahrain-Saudi Arabia, with 7 seconds left and the game tied 25-25, the Saudis had a free-throw at the 9-meter line. Additionally, they had a 2-man advantage, so they had an excellent opportunity to win instead of having to play overtime! But with 4 seconds left, the Bahraini goalkeeper saved what was intended as the final shot, the ball rebounded out to a Bahraini court player, Saeed Jawhar, who then quickly heaved the ball the length of the court. The Saudi goalkeeper who was some distance in front of the goal couldn’t quite get back in time for the save, so the ball hit the goalpost and deflected into the net, at 29’59 !!! Bahrain won 26-25 and is through to the World Championship next January in Sweden.

VIDEO: Final seconds of Bahrain – Saudi Arabia:

Report in Gulf Daily News, Bahrain:

The stunned Saudi players now will have try to recharge the batteries for the third place game against Japan on Saturday, when they have one more chance to qualify.

Japan may have made a tactical mistake, trying extremely hard to keep up with the Koreans. They got close several times, but whenever that happened, the Koreans simply put in another gear and easily pulled away again. So the question is, will also Japan have spent their best efforts too soon, in a game where perhaps they did not have a serious chance. Now they also may have a tough time to come back! But it suggests that there will be tremendous fight for the remaining qualfying slot, and the Asian final between Korea and Bahrain may almost become a bit anticlimactic by comparison…

Today’s results:

Semifinal: Saudi Arabia-Bahrain 25-26
Semifinal: Korea-Japan 30-25

5th place: Qatar-Syria 31-30
7th place: Lebanon-Iran 23-35

Yesterday’s results:

9th place: China-Iraq 30-25
11th place: U.A.E.-Jordan 43-36

Saudi Arabia- Bahrain and Korea-Japan in the semifinals

In today’s four matches in the main round, most of the anticipated excitement failed to materialize. Only one match was close, namely Qatar-Saudi Arabia. Qatar had the rather impossible task of winning by at least six goals, in order to qualify for the semi-finals. They almost managed to win, but in the end they had to settle for a tie. As Japan crushed a disillusioned Iranian team, this meant that Qatar was out.

In the other group, Bahrain had absolutely no problems with home team, drawing on their experience to win easily. Syria managed to play even with Korea in the first half, mainly by using really dirty methods. In the second half, however, the Koreans pulled away and won convincingly.

The complete results and standings in the Main Round are as follows:

[u]Gr. A.[/u]
Iran – Saudi Arabia 19-26 (8-11)
Japan – Qatar 29-20 (15-10)
Iran – Qatar 21-22 (11-11)
Japan – Saudi Arabia 26-28 (12-15)
Qatar – Saudi Arabia 26-26 (12-13)
Japan – Iran 36-23 (21-11)

[b]1. Saudi Arabia [/b]5 points [b]2. Japan [/b]4 points 3. Qatar 3 points 4. Iran 0 points

[u]Gr. B.[/u]
Syria – Bahrain 31-35 (13-16)
Korea – Lebanon 38-23 (17-11)
Korea – Bahrain 39-25 (19-11)
Syria – Lebanon 32-29 (17-14)
Syria – Korea 25-35 (14-15)
Lebanon – Bahrain 18-36 (8-13)

[b]1. Korea [/b]6 points [b]2. Bahrain [/b]4 points 3. Syria 2 points 4. Lebanon 0 points

In a placement match, Iraq beat Jordan with 30-26; on Tuesday, Iraq will play against China for 9th place, and Jordan-U.A.E. will play for 11th place;

On Wednesday, Qatar and Syria will battle for 5th place, and Iran-Lebanon are playing for 7th place.

The same evening, the semifinals will be: Saudi Arabia-Bahrain and Korea-Japan. The winners qualify for the Asian final and therefore also for the 2011 World Championship. The losers will play for ‘bronze’ and for the final slot in Sweden 2011.

The results until now make it very difficult to have a firm opinion on the outcome of the Saudi Arabia-Bahrain match-up. Neither team has shown real stability, and whoever turns out to be the winner, one could not really talk about a surprise. Korea must be seen as the favorite against Japan, but in this East Asian rivalry one can never be too sure.

Asian Championship: Korea remains undefeated, and Saudis surprise Japan

As expected, the start of the Main Round brought a new level of intensity, with close matches, surprises and nerves both on the court, on the benches and among spectators.

The situation after two of the three Main Round days is:

[u]Gr. A[/u]
Iran – Saudi Arabia 19-26 (8-11)
Japan – Qatar 29-20 (15-10)
Iran – Qatar 21-22 (11-11)
Japan – Saudi Arabia 26-28 (12-15)
Qatar – Saudi Arabia Mon. Feb. 15
Japan – Iran ditto

[u]Gr. B[/u]
Syria – Bahrain 32-35 (13-16)
Korea – Lebanon 38-23 (17-11)
Korea – Bahrain 39-25 (19-11)
Syria – Lebanon 32-29 (17-14)
Syria – Korea Mon. Feb. 15
Lebanon – Bahrain ditto

In a placement match, China beat U.A.E. with 28-25, and will now play for 9th place.

In yesterday’s and today’s matches, the strong comeback of the Saudi team was remarkable, after they failed to win their group in the preliminary round. In fact, the Saudis had a much more comfortable lead against Japan, before they mysteriously lost their momentum. Iran could instead be seen as a negative surprise, although it is true that they were not really tested earlier. Korea has kept ‘steamrolling’, and the Bahraini victory against Syria may turn out to be a key result.

When play resumes on Monday, all eight teams in the Main Round still maintain at least a theoretical chance to qualify for the semi-finals. Conversely, each of the eight teams still runs the risk of missing out on the semi-finals, although it would require an absolute miracle for Korea to fail, considering the very favorable goal difference against Bahrain. The Saudis are in a good position for advancing, and Japan have an edge due to strong goal difference, but the team from Qatar are not out of it. Lebanon would need to rely on Korea to keep winning, and then they would need a 4-goal win against Bahrain to squeeze into the semifinals. All in all, a very exciting finish is coming up when the Main Round concludes in Beirut.

Asian Championship: Preliminary round completed

The last two days of the group play offered, as expected, some excitement in important games between evenly matched teams. The results were:

Gr. A Saudi Arabia-China 20-22
Gr. D Iran-Lebanon 25-16
Gr. B Japan-Bahrain 31-27
Gr. C Korea-Qatar 29-23

This means that China failed to qualify for the main round, but it was really close. China needed to win by 4 goals and had a 3-goal lead close to the end, but that was as close as it got. The new Chinese team will now have more time to gain experience in time for future events. In the meantime, Syria (as group winner) and Saudi Arabia are in the main round.

Iran gained a rather comfortable victory against Lebanon. The home team again got good crowd support, but they were simply a bit too thin in comparison with a more solid and experienced adversary. But Lebanon is still in the main round as a runner-up, after the earlier victory against Jordan.

The young Japanese team now played a more convincing game against the Bahrainis, who are never an easy opponent. However, both teams could play without nerves, as they had both beaten the Iraqi team earlier. Japan is now the group winner.

Today’s drama came in the Korea-Qatar encounter. It was one of those awkward situations, where one team (U.A.E.) can just sit and watch, hoping for the best. And conversely, one could say that Korea had the fate of both teams in their hands, after having previously beaten U.A.E. with 30-23. As the Qatar-U.A.E. game ended in a tie, precisely 30-23 was now a pivotal result in today’s game, as this would have made it necessary to resort to a coin toss for the final main round place. And it came close, as Korea’s lead oscillated between 6 and 9 goals. But the final result was 29-23. Surely a somewhat bitter ending for the U.A.E, but at least the coin toss was avoided…

The main round starts on Saturday and goes on for three days with round-robin play in the following two groups; the best two in each group advance to the semifinals, with a chance for the three slots in the 2011 World Championship. One could say that this is where the Championship really starts:

Gr. A: Iran, Japan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia
Gr. B: Korea, Syria, Lebanon and Bahrain

The ‘consolation matches’ include China-U.A.E on Sunday and Iraq-Jordan on Monday; the winners later play for 9th place and the losers for 11th place.

Asian Championship: Picture for Main Round getting clearer

Each group has 3 teams, and 2 of the 3 matches in each group have now been played. The Monday and Tuesday results were:

Gr. A Syria – China 28 – 21 (14 – 9)
Gr. D Iran – Jordan 39 – 23 (19 – 12)
Gr. B Iraq – Bahrain 19 – 30 (7 – 17)
Gr. C U.A.E. – Qatar 25 – 25 (12 – 12)

The win for Syria may seem surprising, but there is an explanation: China came with a new, young team; very tall and athletic players, but clearly without much handball experience. It is too early to how much talent they have for the longer term, but more immediately it means that [u]China needs to defeat Saudi Arabia with at least 4 goals on Wednesday[/u] to avoid being eliminated. If they do no manage this, then the Saudi team will advance together with Syria. But at least it seems clear now that Syria is not a pushover.

Jordan became the first team to be eliminated after two straight defeats. Iran, with a new Russian coach replacing the previous one, had no difficulties in this game. What now remains to be seen is who will be the winner of the group, and thus higher seeded in the main round, after [u]the game between Iran and the home team Lebanon on Wednesday[/u]. Perhaps the spectators, who have been largely missing since the opening day, will now be back to create some crowd support and inspiration for their favorites.

Iraq today became the second team eliminated after the loss against Bahrain. The game was decided quite early, and Bahrain did not need to show full capacity. But this also means that it is difficult to have a clear sense for [u]what might happen in the game Japan-Bahrain on Thursday[/u]. Both teams will be in the main round, but who will be the group winner and seeded higher in the main round groups next week?

The rivalry between U.A.E. and Qatar had been expected to offer a close and exciting game, and the teams matched the expectations. It was tied at half-time and tied at the final whistle. The game was quite rough, with 2 ‘red cards’ and 18 suspensions. The referees from Iran, the most experienced couple of Asia, had their hands full. The team from U.A.E. now finds itself in the unusual position of having to cheer for Korea [u]on Thursday. U.A.E. will be out, unless Qatar loses by 7 or more against Korea[/u]. But perhaps the Qatari will be able to recharge the batteries quickly and surprise the Koreans…

Asian Championship underway without surprises or incidents

During the first two days, with a total of four games, the Championship got off to a good start, with a peaceful atmosphere and in a general spirit of sportsmanship. Some teams played a bit rougher on defense than the others, but nothing extraordinary. With one exception, the games were also rather one-sided. The results were:

Gr. A Saudi Arabia – Syria 23:22 (12:9)
Gr. D Lebanon – Jordan 34:21 (14:9)
Gr. B Japan – Iraq 35-21 (19:13)
Gr. C Korea – U.A.E. 30-23 (13-12)

The Saudi team did not make the same strong impression as two years ago, and had to struggle to overcome a strong resistance from the Syrian team. It was not decided until the final seconds. It will now be interesting to see how the Chinese team compares with these two combatants.

The home team was supported by a crowd of around 2,000, including many dignitaries. The game was not played at a very high level, and the result says more about the weakness of the team from Jordan. Iran remains a clear favorite in this group, but the home team appears to have secured a spot in the main round.

Japan literally ran away from an inexperienced Iraqi team. The outcome became clear quite early in the game, even if the Japanese did not show an entirely convincing form yet. This suggests that Bahrain should also be able to get through to the next phase.

The Korean team was in for more of a battle than perhaps had been expected. In the second half, however, the Koreans, who came with a new coach and many young players, were able to pull away and win rather comfortably.

The Monday games are: Syria-China and Iran-Jordan;
On Tuesday we will see: Iraq-Bahrain and the friendly neighbors U.A.E.-Qatar

Asian Men’s Championship starting on Saturday

Beirut is hosting this event that gets underway on Saturday and will go on for two entire weeks. Twelve games in six days is the modest pace during the preliminary round. Following, the suspension of the Kuwait Olympic Committee and then also the Kuwait Handball Federation, as discussed more in detail in a recent article, the groups are as follows: A: Saudi Arabia, China, Syria; B: Japan, Bahrain, Iraq; C: Rep. of Korea, Qatar, United Arab Emirates; and D: Iran, Lebanon, Jordan.

There has been speculation that Kuwait might be reinstated up to the very last moment. The Kuwaiti government has been in a position to take the legislative measures that would satisfy the IOC, but apparently this has not been feasible. As discussed previously, there was also the question as to whether the IHF had actually been [u]forced[/u] by the IOC to suspend Kuwaiti handball, or whether this was a [u]voluntary[/u] action. Mysteriously, the IOC keeps being very cryptic. They refrain from answering this question, and simply say that the individual sports ‘were informed’ about the reasons for the IOC suspension and that then, as of this moment, eight out of 20 sports federations, among them the IHF, have suspended Kuwait in their respective sports, while 12 have not followed the lead of the IOC. Perhaps we will obtain clarity at some point.

In the absence of Kuwait, the groups now look fairly balanced, and the competition for the three qualifying spots for the 2011 World Championships may be more open than it seemed before. Most of our sources in Asia are ready to believe that Korea and Iran will be strongest teams on their half of the draw, with good chances to qualify, but Qatar should never be underestimated. They have made good progress in recent years. The other half may be more difficult to predict. China is likely to have benefited from its Olympic experience. Japan and Bahrain can always be expected do well, but both of them tend to be a bit unpredictable. Perhaps Saudi Arabia should be seen as the ‘dark horse’.

As noted in an earlier article, the main thing this time is really the expectation of fair and honest competition. On many previous occasions, this was not the case. There are too many sad examples to mention here, but one of the more conspicuous ones is explained in the following THN article from the 2008 championship, incl. a YouTube video clip: Asia needs to shape up its handball image, in the same way as the quality of the teams has kept improving. THN intends to follow the event closely and hopes to be able to provide occasional reports.