France, Sweden reach Olympic final

LONDON -- France is one victory away from retaining its Olympic handball title.

The 2008 champions will take on Sweden in Sunday's final, giving the Swedes a fourth chance to finally win the gold medal after finishing runner-up straight three times from 1992-2000.

The French defeated 2004 champion Croatia 25-22 in the semifinals Friday, getting four goals each from Luc Abalo, Daniel Narcisse and Samuel Honrubia. In the first semifinal, Sweden edged Hungary 27-26.

"It will be a very interesting game," France captain Jerome Fernandez said. "It will be a tough fight as we have very different playing styles."

World champion France will start as the favorite but Fernandez warned his team not to look past Sweden.

"They are in the final and they deserve it," the left back said.

France took a 5-1 lead in the first 10 minutes as Croatia missed 10 of its first 11 shots, mainly because of outstanding goalkeeping by Thierry Omeyer.

France led 12-10 at halftime and held on to its lead, despite Croatia having more shots on goal, 47-41.

"Incredible," Croatia pivot Igor Vori said. "So many chances in the first 20 minutes."

Croatia was also beaten by France in the semifinals in Beijing four years ago by an almost identical score, 25-23. Then, defending champion Croatia went on to lose the bronze-medal match against Spain.

In the early match, Sweden right wing Niclas Ekberg scored six times against Hungary.

"I am very satisfied and proud of what we've done with this team," Sweden captain Tobias Karlsson said. "We were deep down after a bad qualification in June. We have done hard work and are really proud to be in the final."

Hungary battled in the second half and got within one or two goals, but could not manage an equalizer.

"I had a good feeling when I woke up this morning," Ekberg said. "I had a smile on my face."

Ekberg now tops the list of the tournament's scorers with Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson from already eliminated Iceland. Both have scored 44 goals.