France eyes Olympic handball gold as both women and men advance to finals
France stormed into their second consecutive women’s Olympic handball final with a 29-27 victory over Sweden on Friday to set up a Rio title round rematch with the Russians, who beat Norway 27-26 in their semi-final at the Yoyogi National Stadium.
France came up with a disciplined defensive performance to neutralise Sweden’s attack in the last-four clash and the 2016 runners-up rode on Rostov-Don centre back Grace Zaadi’s seven goals to secure the victory.
It was a disappointing outing for Sweden who were competing in the semis for the first time and were without pivot Linn Blohm late in the match after the 29-year-old was shown a red card for three two-minute suspensions.
Victory meant that France’s women emulated the men’s team in reaching the gold medal clash and setting up a meeting with the defending champions.
The men’s team – the self-titled ‘Les Experts’ – will face holders Denmark on Saturday hoping to upgrade their silver from five years ago.
The twin handball finals will mark part of an exciting culmination for France in team sports at the Olympics, including what promises to be a dramatic rematch with the United States in men’s basketball, and another gold medal showdown with the Russian Olympic Committee in men’s indoor volleyball.
The French women’s basketball team will also challenge Serbia for bronze on Saturday, after a disappointing loss to Japan in the semifinal.
Rematch with Russia
In handball, the women are on a mission to erase painful memories of their defeat by the Russian women.
“I remember I was very disappointed and hurt that we didn’t succeed, because you never know if you’ll have another chance,” French centre back Allison Pineau said.
“I hope I’ll be here on Sunday with a smile (after the final).”
“Thinking that for the second time in a row I’ll play a final in the Olympics is a great feeling. That was our goal from the beginning. The journey to here was pretty difficult because this is the Olympics Games and we were in a very tough group.”
The Russians, competing as representatives of their national Olympic committee ROC without their flag or anthem due to doping sanctions, overcame the dismissal of left back Anna Sen for a foul to finish the first half against Norway ahead 14-11.
Double Olympic champions Norway had pushed the Russians to the brink in their last Games encounter in the Rio semis before losing in overtime and the Scandinavians staged another comeback by narrowing the deficit to two goals with two minutes left.
But the Russians endured waves of pressure in the final seconds to hold on for the victory and remain on course to retain their title.
Norway will face Sweden for the bronze medal.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)
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