Oman storms into beach handball worlds

It was a double delight for the Oman team on Sunday as it not only confirmed its spot in the 2018 IHF World Beach Handball Championships in Sochi, Russia, but also stormed into the final of the sixth Asian championship with a hard-fought 2-1 (10-8, 12-15, 8-4) win over Iran in the semifinals in Pattaya, Thailand.

Coached by Hamood al Hassani and winner of the inaugural Asian championship, Oman will take on title-holder Qatar in the summit clash on Monday. Qatar beat Vietnam 2-0 (26-6, 25-22) in the other semifinal.

Oman, a three-time Asian championship runner-up, had defeated Qatar in the group stage of the ongoing tournament, which began on May 8.

Oman outplayed Chinese Taipei 2-0 (16-14, 18-13) in the opening Group A match before getting past Uzbekistan 2-0 (19-17, 21-10) in the next contest.

In the concluding group match, Oman stunned defending champion Qatar 2-0 (15-14, 19-18) to advance to semifinals as the group-topper. Oman has advanced to the Sochi worlds along with Iran, Qatar and Vietnam.

The top four men’s teams at the Asian meet qualified for next year’s worlds. It would be Oman’s fifth consecutive appearance and the sixth overall at the worlds since 2004.

The team’s best performance so far was at the 2016 edition that was held in Budapest, Hungary in July, where Hassani’s men finished seventh, bagging upset wins over fancied teams like Spain, Egypt and Uruguay.

At the Asian championship, Oman won the first edition in 2004 at home, defeating Bahrain in the final. Pakistan beat hosts Iran in 2007 and since then, Qatar has won the title for the past three times - in 2011, 2013 and 2015 - beating Oman in the final on all three occasions.

The Asian championship in Pattaya is being contested by nine teams. Pool B consists of hosts Thailand, Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan and the UAE.

Oman Handball Association chairman Said al Shahri expressed his delight on the team’s performance and is hoping that it regains the Asian title that it had last won in 2004.

Speaking to Muscat Daily by phone from Pattaya, Shahri said, “It is a proud moment for Oman to appear in the fourth consecutive Asian championship final and qualify for the World Championships for the fifth successive time. I congratulate the players and the coaching staff and thank the Ministry of Sports Affairs and the Oman Olympic Committee for their support.”

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