QATARI handballers delivered when it mattered the most as they beat Argentina 22-18 to enter the quarterfinal, where they take on European powerhouse Germany on Wednesday.
Qatar needed either a draw or a win in their last Group A encounter to progress to the knockout stage and they did not disappoint.
For Argentina, it was a must-win situation. With Croatia, France and Denmark having already qualified from the group, a cracker of a contest was on cards. But Danijel Saric did the star turn for Qatar with some terrific saves in the goal and proved a tough nut to crack.
The World Championship runners-up were quick off the blocks and took a 3-0 lead. They never really loosened their grip on the match and led by the same margin at the halfway mark (12-9).
“We’ve made history by becoming the first nation from the Gulf to qualify for the Olympics quarterfinal. Our first aim was to reach the knockout phase. We’ve achieved it. It’s already a big victory for us,” said an elated Qatar captain Abdulrazzaq Murad.
Qatar began their campaign on a resounding note, beating Croatia. But that was followed by defeats to world champions France and another European side Denmark while they were lucky to escape with a draw against African champions Tunisia, a match in which they scored the equaliser with just 12 seconds to go for the final whistle.
Right-back Kamalaldin Mallash expressed hopes that Qatar could go further in the tournament.
“We’re a relatively young team. It’s important to remember that most of our players are competing in this arena for the first time. We’ve trained a lot to reach this level and wouldn’t want to let this opportunity go,” said Mallash.