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French 'Experts' grab gold in men's handball

Latest update : 2008-08-24

In a welcome wrap-up for the French at the Beijing Olympic Games, the "Experts" landed the first Olympic gold medal of France's handball history with a 28-23 win over Iceland in the men's final.

France outclassed Iceland 28-23 to win the men's handball gold medal here Sunday, shattering their opponents' dream of snaring its first ever Olympic goal in any sport.

The finesse of tournament favourites France was too much for the plucky Icelanders, who equalled their nation's greatest Olympic achievement simply by winning the silver medal.

After the match, six foot six (1.98 metre) Icelandic pivot Sigfus Sigurdsson sat on the court and wept, prompting his French counterpart Didier Denart to haul him to his feet and gave him a consoling hug.

It was France's first Olympic gold in the sport and offered redemption for the team's humiliating quarter-final exit in Athens four years ago, when they were also red-hot favourites but failed to deliver.

Deafening support for both teams created a cauldron-like atmosphere in Beijing's 18,000-seat National Indoor Stadium, with the Icelanders pumping each other up with high fives before the game.

French right back Cedric Burdet opened the scoring within the first minute but Iceland's captain Olafur Stefansson hit back immediately.

The French combination of Nikola Karabatic looked dangerous in attack, forcing Icelandic pivot Andreas Jakobsson to dish out some punishing defence in order to disrupt their rhythm.

Iceland had two early chances to go ahead but a diving save from French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer and wayward shooting from pivot Robert Gunnarsson meant the scores stayed level at 2-2.

Gunnarson, sporting a mohawk hairstyle he said made his feel like a Spartan warrior, made no mistake on his next attacking raid, blasting the ball past Omeyer to give his team a 3-2 lead on nine minutes.

Then France seized the initiative with four unanswered goals, threatening to overwhelm their opponents, who were continually frustrated in attack by Omeyer's acrobatic saves.

The French lead had blown out to seven goals late in the first half but Iceland managed to whittle it down to five at the break, still leaving them facing a mammoth task to claim gold.

The Icelanders scored first when play resumed but France piled on the pressure again and stretched the lead to nine goals after 40 minutes.

The pressure of the occasion, described by Iceland's president as the biggest sporting event in the nation's history, seemed to weigh on the players, whose potency shooting on goal lacked the venom seen in earlier games.

They narrowed the deficit to five goals to give the scoreline some respectability but never looked like upsetting France.


Date created : 2008-08-24