France and Croatia reach final

Sat, 30 Jan 19:20:00 2010

World and Olympic handball champions France are one game away from completing a unique treble after reaching the European Championship final with a 36-28 win over Iceland.

Players of France celebrate after their men's handball European Championship Group M2 main round match against Poland in Innsbruck, Austria - 0

The French, aiming to become the first nation to hold all three titles at the same time, will face Croatia - 24-21 winners over Poland in the other semi-final - in Sunday's final.

The eagerly awaited clash between the tournament favourites will be a repeat of last year's World Championship final, when France beat Croatia on their own turf in Zagreb.

"The final is not a game to play, it's a game to win," French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer said after pulling off 14 saves against Iceland in a one-sided contest.

"We knew we had to be patient, stay calm and wear down Iceland physically, that's what we did and we won't stop here."

A more athletic French team raced into a 9-6 lead midway through the first half and although Iceland rallied back to nose ahead 13-12, France led 16-14 at halftime after four successive goals from Nikola Karabatic.

Karabatic, an outstanding Serbian-born playmaker, tormented his markers throughout the game and finished with nine goals from as many shots, while Michael Guigou and Guillame Joli added six apiece.

"It was a very important match, but those are the matches we live for and our confidence increased with every game we played in the tournament," Karabatic said.

"I hadn't scored that many goals up to this game and I knew I needed to step up a gear. I felt before the match I would have a great game and we had a lot of fun."

Croatia, looking for their first European gold medal, overcame a 10-9 halftime deficit against the Poles after guard Domagoj Duvnjak led an inspired second-half performance with five goals.

The Croatians swung a physical, low-scoring contest their way after three successive efforts by Duvnjak fired them into a 15-12 lead midway through the second period, with captain Ivano Balic drilling in a crucial solo effort late in the game.

"We were a bit static in the first half but after the halftime team talk, we improved in the second half and never looked back once we overhauled Poland's lead," said Croatia's winger Vedran Zrnic.

Coach Lino Cervar added: "We forced Poland to commit a lot of turnovers and offensive fouls after the interval, we will now try to upset France in the final."

Reuters

Not already a Yahoo! user ? to get a free Yahoo! Account