JAKARTA, Indonesia, Qatar overcame a strong challenge from Saudi Arabia, to assure themselves of a semi-final berth in the Asian Games handball tournament, with a 28-23 victory in their main round Pool 1 clash, at the Popki Stadium in Jakarta, on Wednesday.

The defending champions’ superiority was never in doubt but a somewhat defensive approach in the final stages allowed the Saudis some leeway before Valero Rivera’s boys closed out the match much to the joy of the Qatari fans at the venue.

It was the Saudis who dominated the exchanges early in the game, though. They took a 7-4 lead with the match 11 minutes old and continued to hold the upper hand, leading 9-7 after 15 minutes. But a fine six-metre goal from Moustafa Heiba and a fast-break effort by Ali Yousef levelled the scores in the 18th minute. Another six-metre goal by Yousef saw Qatar go ahead narrowly for the first time in the match.

The match witnessed a strange spell of play afterwards with both teams lapsing into a defensive mode that lasted almost eight minutes, during which not a single goal was scored. In the 25th minute, however, a fast-break goal by Anis Zuoaoui to the bottom-left corner of the net saw Qatar gain an 11-9 advantage. A minute later Zuoaoui made it 12-9 with a goal from the left flank.

It was Qatar all the way after that as they scored four successive goals to edge the first half 16-10 and carried their momentum into the second half, leading 19-14 by the time the match was 40 minutes old. There were spells of inactivity between goals with both teams struggling to break free but by the 55th minute Qatar were sitting pretty with a final score of 28-23.