Handball: Sweden and France into final
Updated: Friday, 10 Aug 2012 23:11
France remain on course to become the first team to ever defend their Olympic title in the men's handball competition after a comfortable semi-final victory over Croatia.
Les Bleus, cheered on by an army of supporters who have made the short trip across the English channel, are now just 60 minutes away from history after setting up a final with Sweden on Sunday.
The victory was inspired by a strong second-half performance, at one point giving themselves a five-goal advantage, with Daniel Narcisse and Luc Abalo scoring four goals apiece.
Croatia were the only team with a 100 per cent record in the competition coming into the game, but their hopes of becoming the first team to win three gold medals in the men's competition are over and they will now contest the bronze medal with Hungary in a prelude to Sunday's final.
France were in the ascendancy from the off and raced into a 3-0 lead after five minutes, but their real hero was at the other end as goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer saved eight out of the first nine shots thrown at him, which allowed that advantage to stretch to 5-1.
But any hopes that a partisan French crowd had of their team running away with it were quickly dashed by a superb response from Croatia, which was almost single-handedly inspired by Zlatko Horvat, who threw in five goals as the the deficit was reduced to 10-9.
France enjoyed a strong final three minutes of the first half, though, and went into the half-time interval 12-10 up.
And they carried that form into the opening exchanges of the second period, putting one foot into the final as four straight goals put them 18-13 ahead with 43 minutes on the clock.
Croatia threatened a comeback when they got back to 19-17, but they came up against an in-form Omeyer who continued to make save after save, which allowed France to remain in control.
Claude Onesta's side advanced comfortably to the final hooter, sealing a three-goal winning margin to set up their date with destimy in two days' time.
Sweden held on to reach a fourth men's Olympic handball final and set up another shot at a first gold medal after they beat Hungary 27-26 in the other semi-final.
Like in their quarter-final defeat of Denmark, it was the Swedish defence which saved the day while goalkeeper Mattias Andersson, on the bench for almost the entire last eight clash, came good.
Hungary threatened another late show like they produced to pip Iceland in the first knockout round but this time it was not to be, Gergely Harsanyi denied an equaliser in stunning fashion by Andersson with just over a minute left.
Sweden enjoyed a stroke of good luck at 26-25, when Kim Ekdahl du Rietz took the excellent Hungarian shotstopper Nandor Fazekas by surprise, the left wing being unaware he had more time to release the ball.