France down Iceland to win men's handball gold
France’s 28-23 victory over Iceland shatters their opponents’ dream of snaring its first Olympic gold in any sport.25 August 2008
BEIJING - 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 gold in any sport.
In the last gold medal event of the Beijing Games, tournament favourites France's finesse was too much for the gutsy Icelanders, who equalled their nation's greatest Olympic achievement simply by winning the silver medal.
The bronze medal went to Spain, who defeated Croatia 35-29 in the playoff for third place.
After the gold medal decider, 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.
French left back Nikola Karabatic turned on the style with an eight-goal masterclass and goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer constantly frustrated Iceland's attackers as he hurled himself around the court.
Karabatic said he would always savour the final minute of the game, when he knew victory was sealed.
"I looked at my teammates, you could see victory in their eyes, we knew we had done it, we had finally won at the Olympic Games," he said. "That joy defies description."
Iceland coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson said his team, which reached the final after a giant-killing run that included Spain, Poland, Germany and Russia, had failed to click against the French.
"It was a strange moment after losing the game. We had to put it in perspective and think we really didn't lose the gold medal, we won the silver," he said.
"The Icelandic nation is totally crazy right now, it's very important for us to win an Olympic medal."
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 Karabatic and Burdet 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 Omeyer and wayward shooting from Robert Gunnarsson meant the scores stayed level at 2-2.
Gunnarsson, 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.
[AFP / Expatica]