RIYADH: Saudi Arabia suffered their first loss of the 20th Asian Handball Championship, going down 24-20 to Iran at the Ministry of Sports Hall in Dammam, but still progressed to the last eight of the competition by finishing second in Group B.

The top five finishers in the competition will qualify for the 2023 World Handball Championship taking place in Poland and Sweden.

The Saudi team had ended the first half leading 13-9 lead, but the Iranians took advantage of a drop in intensity by the host nation during the second period to run out winners by four points and top the group.

Both nations qualified for the quarterfinals while in the same group Australia beat India 27-26 to finish third.

Despite the loss to Iran, the Saudi team achieved its best scoring performance in the group stages of the last five editions of the competition, notching 108 goals in three matches, at an average of 36 per game.

In the 2014 edition, the Saudi team averaged 26 goals per match, and followed that up with 27 in 2016, 30 in 2018, and 33 in 2020.

In the second round, Saudi Arabia have been placed in the same group as South Korea, Qatar, and Uzbekistan, while the second group includes Kuwait, Iran, Bahrain, and Iraq.

The top two from each group will play in the semi-finals, while the third-place teams will contest a playoff for fifth spot and a place in next year’s World Handball Championship.

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