Defending champions Al Najma put on a dominant display last night as they beat the UAE’s Al Sharjah 35-25 in the second semi-final of the 39th GCC Clubs Handball Tournament at the Khalifa Sports City Arena to sail into tomorrow’s final with ease.
They will face Al Kuwait, who defeated Qatar’s Al Arabi 25-21 earlier in the first-semi-final, in the title clash at the same venue.
Having started the second half leading 18-11, the reigning champions shrugged off the loss of their Egyptian star Hassan Qaddah – who was sent off in the fourth minute after a blatant foul on Musbah Al Sanae – and refused to relax their stranglehold on the game as they sped to a 10-point lead, at 26-16, with 15 minutes left in the game.
Al Sharjah tried manfully to claw their way back into the reckoning but, apart from Al Sanae – who scored the majority of their goals – no one else could manage to penetrate through the immaculate Al Najma defence as consistently.
Resultantly, with only five minutes left on the clock and the scoreboard showing the Bahraini club leading 31-23, the Al Najma fans, who had packed the arena’s stands almost to capacity, understood that victory was already assured and increased the intensity and volume of their cheering and singing.
Soon, the final buzzer went off and the crowd’s joy knew no bounds as they celebrated their team’s emphatic 10-point victory.
Earlier, the tone for the game had been set by Al Najma in the opening few minutes as they raced to a 6-3 lead by the end of the 10th minute and increased it to 11-6 with nine minutes left till the end of the first half.
Before long, the buzzer sounded to signal the end of the game’s first 30 minutes with Al Najma strongly placed thanks to a seven-point lead.
Qaddah and his compatriot Ahmed Al Ahmer led the scoring in the first half with five goals each, with man-of-the-match Ahmed Jassim, Adel Mohammed and Qassim Qamber also joining in the fun.
A very happy Al Najma president Shaikh Abdulrahman bin Mubarak Al Khalifa told the GDN after the game that his team had put on one of their best performances in the tournament.
“Congratulations to Bahrain,” he declared. “I think tonight we didn’t play solely in the name of Al Najma. It was more like a Bahrain vs UAE game, which was great. We started so strongly and it was the first 20 minutes that won us the match when we went up 11-6 and Al Sharjah struggled to get back into the game.
“I have to say this was definitely one of our best performances in this tournament. Coach Ali Falahi made a lot of changes and the bench players came on and did very well. And that is what is so very good about our club – even the bench players can come on and have an effect on the game.”
The Al Najma president added that his team’s bench strength had been the key to their unbeaten run in the tournament.
“In handball, you have to have a strong starting six, plus another six on the bench,” he explained. “You just can’t depend on the same six all the time. For example, Al Arabi lost to Al Kuwait in the other semi-final because they depended on the first six and they struggled – they didn’t have good bench players. They have a very good team but they struggled in the end because of a lack of bench strength.
“And we are now representing Bahrain in the final to defend our title. What’s more: we are playing against Al Kuwait, the Asian champions – we lost to them last year in the final of the Asian championship in Hyderabad, India. So it’s a rematch and we want to take revenge for losing the Asian Cup to them.
“So the champions of Asia face the champions of the Gulf. We are the strongest two clubs, with due respect to all the other clubs.”
Shaikh Abdulrahman also paid tribute, and expressed his gratitude, to Supreme Council for Youth and Sport first deputy chairman, General Sports Authority chairman and Bahrain Olympic Committee president Shaikh Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa for his solid support to the club.
“Shaikh Khalid congratulated us immediately after the win,” Shaikh Abdulrahman said. “The tournament is being held under his patronage which gives us another incentive to try and do well in the final, not only for His Majesty King Hamad but also for Bahrain.
“I would like to add that I am extremely grateful to Shaikh Khalid. He is always a source of great support to the club because of the energy he gives to the players and everyone else. Now, he’s very happy, and we’re happy and we congratulate everyone who has been involved in our success in this tournament.”