Full card for the tricolor handball players. Stronger in defense and more creative in attack, the Olympic champions clearly dominated Sweden (31-26), Friday, January 27, in the semi-finals of the world championship which takes place in Poland and Sweden.
Great teams are usually able to raise their level of play in big games. By producing their best match since the start of the World Cup on the occasion of this highly anticipated meeting, the French did more than win a simple meeting: they set the record straight.
After their two painful defeats at this same stage of the competition against the same opponent at the 2021 World Cup and Euro 2022, they were keen to take their revenge. Their victory is all the sweeter as it took place at the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, a veritable temple of handball, in a country where this sport is almost a religion.
They will find Sunday in this same enclosure another Scandinavian team, Denmark, which got rid of Spain without trembling (26-23). Two days after having fought a Homeric battle against Norway in the quarter-finals (35-34 after two extensions), the Spaniards had no more gas in the tank. Led by five goals at the break, La Roja came back well to a length at 47e minute (20-21), but Danish goalkeeper Niklas Landin was decisive in the final minutes.
On Friday, coach Guillaume Gille’s men delivered a solid match against Sweden, leading from start to finish. The key to the game was the solidity of the French defense and the almost telepathic connection between point guard Nedim Remili and his three pivots: Luka Karabatic, Nicolas Tournat and Ludovic Fabregas.
Dominated physically and tactically, the Scandinavians have never found a solution to this equation with four unknowns. Deprived of their usual playmaker, Jim Gottfridsson, injured in a finger, the Swedes did not have the weapons to compete with a team which seemed to recite its scales. At the heart of the game, Nedim Remili multiplied high-class gestures at a speed that made the Scandinavian defenders dizzy.
Despite an honorable performance (nine saves on 31 shots), their goalkeeper, Andreas Palicka, who had defeated the tricolor attackers in the semi-finals of Euro 2022, was unable, this time, to stop the blue mechanics.
“It was a great match, our best of the competition, declared a visibly relaxed Ludovic Fabregas after this easy qualification. We followed our game plan to the letter. We had prepared well for the meeting and we were well in place tactically, with a lot of calm. The Swedish attackers offer a lot of interlocks but, in the end, their game focuses on two or three players. We put the aggressiveness necessary to win the duels. »
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After his failed match in the quarterfinals against Germany, Vincent Gérard made a more than honorable copy, with thirteen parries on 38 Swedish shots attempted (34%). In the absence of Nikola Karabatic, still in trouble with his left foot, and Thibaud Briet, who suffers from the right hand, Elohim Prandi was solid at left back, as was Romain Lagarde. Irregular since the start of the tournament, Dika Mem found his vista at the right time.
At the end of the meeting, the back of Barcelona was also all smiles: “We had a revenge to take, he explained. We were very hungry tonight. We knew it was something special to win here and it’s done. We never doubted. There are times when you can have low times, but the team never doubts. This is what makes the strength of the group. »
The Blues will play their first World Cup final on Sunday since their success at home in 2017. The Danes will aim for an unprecedented treble. This duel between the two best teams of the past decade promises to be epic. The rivalry between the two countries is deep: the French had beaten (25-23) the Scandinavians in the final of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, before losing the match for third place against these same Danes at Euro 2022, after extension.
“An even bigger challenge awaits us on Sunday against Denmark, insisted Luka Karabatic after the match. They beat us last time. Each time, it comes down to nothing against them. It becomes a classic of world handball. »
For coach Guillaume Gille, who seemed more moved than his players after the match, Sunday’s meeting will effectively oppose the two best teams in the World Cup: “Denmark have incredible attacking talent, did he declare. Apart from a hitch against Croatia [au tour principal, le Danemark et la Croatie ont fait match nul 32-32], they have walked since the start of the tournament, clearly dominating all their opponents. It will take a monstrous match to bring them down. It will be very good to live together. »