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The score remained close throughout the game. Denmark led 16-14 at the break and maintained their advantage in the second half with Mikkel Hansen scoring eight times in the match and their towering keeper Niklas Landlin producing a series of brilliant saves to keep the French at bay.
When the final whistle blew, the entire Danish squad and coaching staff poured onto the court hugging, high-fiving, and clasping their hands on their heads in disbelief. For the French, who won gold in London 2012 and Beijing 2008, it represented a further blow, as they had seen their women’s team lose their final against Russia the previous day.
"It doesn't get bigger than this,” said Denmark’s Henrik Mollgaard Jensen. “We were hoping for France as our opponent in the final because when you beat France you can really call yourself champions. It was an amazing game and really cool to beat them in a game that counts for so much.”
"We managed to keep France at an arm's length, not letting them come closer than one goal ahead. We were able to keep our cool better than we've done before,” he added. “I hope the party back home in Denmark will be as wild as ours will be!”
Meanwhile team-mate Mikkel Hansen had a personal reason for being especially proud of Denmark’s gold. “I'm super happy. Before I entered these Olympics my dad still had the record in the family. He came in the fourth place in 1984 in Sarajevo, so I'm happy to show him the medal. I've broken the record in the family too, so it's going to be good to see him again."
France’s Daniel Narcisse paid tribute to the Danes, who took France by surprise with the potency of their counterattacks. “Tactically, they caused us a lot of difficulties. The way they defended disturbed us and they managed to find extraordinary shots.”
France had arrived in Rio as hot favourites to defend their title, but French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer, himself a two-time Olympic gold medallist, insisted that winning a silver was still something to be regarded as a cause for celebration.
"We can be proud of our performance in this tournament,” said the French custodian. “Of course, we wanted the gold but at the end I think it's a nice medal. To reach the final, game after game, it was a great performance from the team."
Earlier in the day, the reigning European champions Germany clinched the bronze medal as they ran out relatively comfortable 31-25 winners against Poland. The Germans now have an Olympic handball medal of each colour, following their silver in 2004 and gold in 1936.
Spearheaded by their wing players Uwe Gensheimer and Tobias Reichmann, who scored 13 goals between them, Germany led 17-14 going into the break, and remained on top in the second half to run out worthy winners.
“The bronze medal means a lot because we don't have a lot of chances to come to the Olympic Games so to win a medal is one of the most important things in the life of a player,” said Gensheimer.