French handball team "Les Experts" have beaten Croatia 25-21 in the European championship final to become the first ever nation to hold the Olympic, World and European titles simultaneously.
REUTERS - World and Olympic handball champions France beat Croatia 25-21 in the European championship final on Sunday to become the first nation to hold all three titles at the same time.
It was the second European gold medal for the French, who overpowered Croatia in a titanic tussle after overcoming a three-goal deficit in the first half.
The outcome was doubly bitter for Croatia after France beat them in last year’s world championship final on their own turf in Zagreb.
Roared on by their fans, who vastly outnumbered the French in Vienna’s Stadthalle, Croatia led 12-9 late in the first half but several errors allowed France to score three in a row and head into half time on level terms.
Domagoj Duvnjak netted straight after the restart to give Croatia a 13-12 lead, their last of the game as the champions, led by outstanding playmaker Nikola Karabatic, rifled in five without reply.
"We played reasonably well in the first half but our shooting was not accurate enough, while in the second half we simply overran them," Karabatic told Canal Plus television.
"We got better and more confident with every match in the championship and the treble is finally ours," he said.
Karabatic led the winners with six goals and his attacking prowess was supplemented by the tournament’s top goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer, who pulled off 12 saves against Croatia including three seven-metre penalty shots.
Croatia’s Vedran Zrnic topped the scoring with seven goals, six of them from the penalty line, and their captain Ivano Balic added four but the rest of the roster were subdued by a more athletic French team.
"We let our first-half lead slip too easily and they took full advantage after we ran out of the steam in the second period," Croatia coach Lino Cervar told the country’s HRT state television.
"There is no margin for error against the French and they deserved their victory," he said.
Iceland won the bronze medal with a 29-26 defeat of Poland, their second honour in a major tournament after finishing runners-up at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Date created : 2010-01-31