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Mighty France thwart giantkillers Iceland  

   

Handball


Tiny Iceland, whose home games are watched by barely 500 supporters, had never won a major medal in handball before the Olympic Games in Beijing came around.

Few expected them to finish in the top four in their group and book a place in the knockout stages of the tournament but under the inspiring leadership of coach Guðmundur Guðmundsson something special started to develop.

Terrific wins over Germany and Russia helped the Icelandic squad edge into the quarter-finals, a notable achievement in itself. Meanwhile the traditional European powerhouses were starting to make their quality count.

France’s only blemish in the preliminary round came in a 30-30 draw against Poland in the final game and they sat atop Group A. They both moved through to the last eight alongside Croatia and Spain.

The explosive attacking talent became apparent in their quarter-final against the Poles.  Alexander Petersson, Snorri Steinn Gudjonsson and Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson put the Polish goal under a constant bombardment.

For the French, progress was more nerve-wracking as they needed a last-minute score from Daniel Narcisse to beat Russia to reach the semis.

Iceland then overwhelmed Spain in the semis, opening with five unanswered goals from which the Spanish never recovered, while France beat Croatia 25-23 to book their place in the gold medal match.

France could have been forgiven for being slightly edgy as they were considered the big favourite to beat Iceland.

In the end, the experience gleaned from their maiden European Championship win in Switzerland in 2006 gave the French the confidence they needed to come through against the surprise package of the tournament.

At last Iceland’s attacking flair was stifled, mainly by goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer who thwarted countless breakaways from the Icelandic team.

Iceland looked to have a chance at 4-4 but the French scored five goals on the trot to surge into a lead they would never relinquish. They prevailed 28-23 and the French had secured their first-ever handball gold  and only their second-ever medal in the event.

The Icelandic team was devastated but the players could hold their heads high after an unforgettable contribution as the final medals of the 2008 Games were awarded.

 

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