France became the first men's handball team to defend their Olympic
title when their 22-21 win consigned Sweden to a fourth Games final
defeat on Sunday.
It was France's second triumph having clinched the title in Beijing
four years ago and their third Olympic medal after bagging bronze in
The Swedes, competing in their first Games since 2000 when they
finished second for a third straight Olympics, had no answer to the
world champions' superiority in all departments.
Former world player of the year Thierry 'Titi' Omeyer, the
matchwinner in the semi-final against eventual bronze medallists
Croatia, was again on form in goal producing a string of saves to
"We played so well in defence all tournament even if we didn't bring our best all-round game," said talisman Nikola Karabatic.
"We didn't give our opponents any options and that helped Titi to make a lot of saves."
France also beat Sweden 29-26 in the group stages and although the
final was similarly close, the gold medallists stayed ahead once they
crept into the lead in the first half thanks to a series of coolly
converted penalties by Michael Guigou.
In the second half four deftly-taken goals by livewire Luc Abalo and
three thunderous shots by Daniel Narcisse in the first ten minutes kept
them ahead, the stocky Frenchman adding one more towards the end as
Sweden scrapped to force extra-time.
Sweden hit back with four goals in the final six minutes but Abalo
scored to take France two clear with just under 60 seconds remaining,
his team playing out the closing stages with five men following Nikola
Karabatic's two-minute suspension.
"I had a huge surge of adrenaline, then I focused because I knew at
that moment it would have been an important goal. And that was that,"
Abalo told Reuters, unable to stop beaming broadly.
Karabatic, who praised Abalo's "magic" moment, said he was livid to have been sent to the bench for a defensive foul.
"I was really angry with the referee but now we have the gold medal,"
said the former world player of the year, clutching a can of beer in
one hand and roses in the other.
Guigou top-scored for France with five goals while Sweden's Niclas
Ekberg's six strikes lifted him one above Croatian Ivan Cupic as
tournament golden arm with 50 goals, not that he had any idea.
"I didn't know that. Really? That's awesome," he told Reuters.
"I'm so proud of the guys and all the things we've achieved together."
Croatia coasted to a 33-26 victory over a fatigued Hungary in the bronze-medal match, Cupic netting eight goals
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