DOHA (AFP) – Qatar became the first non-European side ever to reach a World handball final after beating Poland 31-29 on Friday.
In a historic night for the sport at a jubilant and packed 15,300-seater Lusail stadium, Qatar overcame a hesitant start to beat a dogged Polish side and shake up handball’s world order.
Previously, no Asian team had got further than the quarter-finals and only two African sides had ever reached the semi-finals.
The hosts, who went into the tournament ranked 36, had said at the beginning of the cup that their aim was to reach the last eight.
But after three straight victories in the knockout phase against strong European teams — Austria, Germany and Poland — relative newcomers Qatar will now contest the final against one of the sport’s elite nations, France.
The reigning European and Olympic champions, the French have the chance to go for the triple crown after dethroning reigning world champions Spain in a fiery encounter, winning 26-22. The final will be played on Sunday.
Qatar’s Spanish-born coach Valero Rivera said it was a “great day”.
“My aim was to play the final and today I am the most happy man in the world. I am very, very happy for the country,” he said before adding the players would celebrate on Friday but prepare for the final “after breakfast” on Saturday.
Polish player Poitr Maslowski said his team were unhappy with the officials.
“In the second half, the decisions made by the referees were in favour of the hosts. We left our hearts on the field. Congratulations to the host team,” he said.
Some off the pitch have questioned the energy-rich Gulf state’s progress because of the number of foreign players they have drafted in, but Qatar, regardless of its international flavour, have been worthy winners on it.
However, at first on Friday, it appeared that history was to be denied as the Polish started much the better and mainly through influential pivot Michal Jurecki, led until the 20th minute.
The omens were not good for the Qataris.
Twice Poland scored despite having a player in the sin-bin, to emphasise their early superiority.
And they were even able to deny Zarko Markovic, who had scored 55 times prior to the match, a goal until close to half time.