It required consultations of the tournament regulations and calculations of goal differences to determine the semi-finalists in Group A. Korea won all the four games while Jordan lost all their games. But the other three teams, Japan, I.R. Iran and Kuwait beat each other so that all of them gained 4 points. Japan could have secured their spot in the semi-final by gaining at least one point against Korea, but the Koreans won by 27-26. Nevertheless, Japan had the small margins on their side.
Japan had beaten Kuwait by 30-27 and lost to Iran by 27-25; but Iran lost to Kuwait by 28-27. This means that both Japan and Iran had an aggregate goal difference of +1 in these three decisive games, while Kuwait had -2. And then in the final tie-breaker, Japan won out by having scored 55 goals compared with Iran’s 54. The ironic thing is that Kuwait, who was already out of the running prior to the final group game against Jordan, could have indirectly helped Iran to get a semi-final slot by failing to defeat Jordan; but even a dispirited group of Kuwaitis ‘could not avoid’ winning by 3 goals.
In the other group, there was in a sense also a ‘triangle drama’, here between Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Qatar and Saudi Arabia tied 24-24, but while Qatar managed a narrow win against Bahrain, 27-26, the Saudis had only managed a tie 23-23 on the opening day of the event. So the ranking among the top three was Qatar 7 points, Saudi Arabia 6, and Bahrain 5. The UAE at least managed to defeat relative newcomer Uzbekistan.
After so many hard-fought games with either ties or narrow victories, it would now be logical to expect to have two extremely closely matched semi-finals: Qatar-Japan and Korea-Saudi Arabia. One might think that Korea would be favorites on the basis of both their traditional strength and their four straight wins in the group. But the combined goal difference against the three closest rivals was a mere +7. So unless Korea has saved their strength, maybe they will be in for a negative surprise. And at least the semi-finalists will be eager to avoid the fourth place, as that would mean missing out on the World Championship in January 2013.
The Saudis seem to be gaining monetary premiums from their government for each win, and the official web site hints about a huge bonus if they secure a medal. So perhaps that and the support of the home crowd will create the necessary incentive. Apropos home crowd, it has been interesting to note completely contradictory reports about the permission for women to be in the stadium and watch the games. One report proudly announces this remarkable progress, whereas another report vehemently denies any notion that women have been allowed to enter with the exception of a few women journalists. Perhaps we will eventually find some photographic evidence…