Bahrain determining the fate of Iran and Korea

Bahrain's failure to win the game gets Iran a place in the World Championship

Bahrain’s failure to win the game gets Iran a place in the World Championship

When I have followed the Asian Men’s Championship closely in recent days, I have seen it coming: the opportunity for suspicions of ‘orchestration’ on the final day of the preliminary groups. And today the scenario was as intriguing as it possibly could be. In the final game in its group, the Bahraini had it in their hands to ‘decide’ whether Iran or Korea would join them in next year’s World Championship.

The background is that three teams qualify, in addition to Qatar, who are the hosts for the 2015 World Championships. With the format now being used in the Asian Championship, this means that the top two teams in each preliminary group qualify not just for the semifinals but also for the World Championship. This is because Qatar is the superior team and is already through to the semifinal from their group prior to the final game tomorrow.

In the other group, the top teams appeared to be Bahrain, Iran and Korea. Iran and Korea tied, 24-24, on the first day. Then Bahrain beat Korea 26-25 two days ago. So from a Korean perspective, today they first needed to win against Saudi Arabia, which they did (28-24), and then they were in the very awkward position of needing to trust Bahrain to defeat Iran. A tie would mean that Bahrain would still win the group and avoid Qatar in the semi-finals, but above all it would mean that Iran would get the second place in the group on better goal difference than Korea.

One can imagine the frustration felt by the Koreans. On several occasions in the past, they have suffered the consequences when some of the West Asians have ‘ganged up’ on them. One just needs to remember the fraud that was perpetrated against the Koreans in the qualifying event for the 2008 Olympic Games. So surely Korea would have reasons to be suspicious. On the other hand, given that Iran is seen by the Bahrain government as the culprit, when the Shiite population in Bahrain is revolting against repression from the Sunni minority regime, one would wonder why a Bahraini team would feel encouraged to give a helping hand to precisely Iran.

But the final result of the Bahrain-Iran game will clearly raise some eye-brows, because the outcome was 30-30, after a 17-14 half-time lead for Bahrain. Of course, the two teams seem relatively evenly matched, so such an outcome could be just a fluke. And judging from reliable reports, there are no indications of manipulation. The Bahraini really seemed to be determined to win the game until the very end. One must hope that this is also the way it was viewed by the Koreans, and that they instead blame their own inability to defeat Iran in the opening game. A flare-up of overt geopolitical fights and accusations is not what the handball world needs.