France beats Sweden to keep Olympic handball gold

Updated: August 12, 2012, 3:33 PM ET
Associated Press

LONDON -- France's lead was trimmed to one on three occasions, and it responded each time.

The French became the first men's handball team to win consecutive Olympic titles when it edged Sweden 22-21 on Sunday.

"I have lived the best day of my life," defender Jerome Fernandez said.

France missed a couple of scoring chances that would have provided some breathing room, but its defense held up for the victory. Thierry Omeyer made 11 saves.

The mass of French supporters in the stadium also helped, shouting "Allez les Bleus" and jumping around through much of the final.

The win was particularly sweet for the French because some critics had called for changes after the country's 11th-place finish in the European championships earlier this year. They feared the players -- 10 of whom were among the winners in Beijing -- were too old, that London 2012 was a tournament too far.

"We showed the people who pitied us that they should feel silly and bad," Nikola Karabatic said. "It feels nice to show the world we are the same team as before."

Sweden was a surprise finalist and picked up its fourth Olympic silver medal since 1992, having never won gold.

Croatia beat Hungary 33-26 for the bronze.

Sweden goalkeeper Johan Sjostrand saved four of the first six shots he faced in a low-scoring game that was tied at 3 after 10 minutes. The teams stayed within one goal of each other until France opened up a three-point lead in the 24th minute on Xavier Barachet's third goal of the half.

In the second half, Niclas Ekberg brought Sweden within one at 16-15. But the Swedes then lost Kim Ekdahl du Rietz for two minutes for a foul and France scored twice during the suspension to relieve some of the pressure. In the final seconds, Ekdahl du Rietz made it 22-21 but France called a timeout and held on for the win.

"We wanted to get the gold but have to make do with silver. This is life, and we have to keep smiling and celebrate doing so well at these Olympics," Sweden coach Staffan Olsson said. "The players were so tired at the end but kept trying, and nearly snatched the tie or better. So I cannot ask for any more from them."

Micheal Guigoi was France's top scorer with five goals. Ekberg scored six for Sweden.

"We were superb. The players were outstanding and the fans incredible. What a magnificent game, atmosphere and occasion," France coach Claude Onesta said. "To win it four years ago was fantastic but to do it in London in the next Olympics was even better. We have a very experienced team which knows how to win the big occasions and we did it again."

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

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