The French men’s and women’s teams are headed to the finals of the Olympic handball tournament this weekend, facing Denmark and Russia, respectively.
France’s women edged out Spain in the quarterfinals to earn a semifinal match with the Netherlands, an exciting, fast-paced squad that had blown out hosts Brazil in their quarterfinal match.
The semifinal lived up to billing, as France led but the Netherlands were nipping at their heels the entire time. A breakaway goal by Cornelia Groot brought the Dutch within two ten minutes into the second half, igniting the passions of a crowd that, interestingly, seemed almost entirely on the side of the team that had ended Brazil’s run.
French keeper Laura Glauser proved superior to her Dutch counterpart, blocking what would have been the tying shot in the 29th minute. When her team turned it over with less than a minute to go, she came up with another fantastic save, allowing France to hang on for the victory.
Alexandra Lacrabère and Siraba Dembélé have provided a formidable 1-2 punch for the French attack that had already beaten the Netherlands, as well as Sweden, in the prelims.
However, the group stage saw France lose to Russia, who finished at the top of Group B. The stage is set for a rematch in the final after Russia upset Norway, who were on a quest for their third-straight gold medal.
Russia went on an impressive scoring run in the first half but needed overtime to defeat the Norwegians, who were led by breakout star Nora Mork’s 14 goals.
Russia was finally able to run down the clock after a missed shot from Norway’s Camilla Herrem, whose team will be very disappointed not to be competing for gold after triumphs at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and the 2011 and 2015 World Championships.
The gold medal match takes place Saturday at 2:30 PM.
The men’s bracket also saw the French outlasting a comeback, as Germany chipped away at an often-sizable French lead to tie things up in the final minutes.
France’s Nikola Karabatic gave Germany trouble all night, making a usually reliable defense look downright porous. As time wound down, however, a Julius Kuhn penalty and a beautiful display of shooting prowess from Tobias Reichmann on the right wing brought the score level.
In the end, it was about who held the ball last. France held the ball as the seconds ticked away, finally trusting Daniel Narcisse to take the final shot, which he sank just in the nick of time to send his team to the final.
The French have dominated nearly every game this tournament and, like the Norwegian women, have been seen as favorites to three-peat (they also won at Beijing and London, as well in last year’s World Championship in Qatar). They, too, knocked out Brazil in the quarterfinals, having lost just one game in the group stage by one point. The Germans blew out Qatar 34-22 to reach the semis.
The final semifinal also ended 29-28, this time in favor of Denmark over a strong Polish side.
Poland’s Karol Bielecki had another fantastic day, refusing to be outshown by Danish star Mikkel Hansen. Hansen’s men led for most of the match thanks to excellent ball movement, but Poland capitalized on every mistake and forced overtime after the teams traded goals in the dying minutes of regulation.
The winners of the 2012 European Championship finally showed their class in extra time, as Hansen put his team up by three after the first five minutes. Sadly, it was a poor shot from Bielecki, the reason Poland had made it this far, that ended their championship hopes, as his final shot was saved and the Danes ran out the clock.
Hansen has been one of the strongest players at the tournament, and his team overall has looked perhaps the most confident. They will take on France in the final Sunday at 1 PM.