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After having triumphed over Sweden, reigning European champion, the French players will have to get rid of the Danes, victorious over the Spaniards (23-26) on Sunday in the final of the World Handball Championship. The challenge: a seventh world champion title for the Experts.
They are back, six years later. The Blues will play their first World Handball final since 2017 after having outclassed Sweden (31-26) in front of their home crowd, reigning European champions, on Friday in Stockholm.
To win a seventh world crown, six years after the last, at home, they will have to defeat other Scandinavians, the Danes, whom they had beaten in the final of the Olympics-2021 (25-23) and are aiming for a hat-trick unpublished. France never realized it, winning two consecutive titles twice, in the time of the Experts (2009, 2011 and 2015, 2017).
This 2023 vintage, most of whose members were covered with Olympic gold a year and a half ago in Tokyo (the veterans Luc Abalo and Mickaël Guigou, then present, have however since retired), can hope to begin to follow in the footsteps of its glorious elders.
This will require a new great performance on Sunday in this Tele 2 Arena, filled with some 20,000 supporters dressed in yellow and blue on Friday. Noisy, even very noisy when Kentin Mahé came forward to take penalties (4 out of 4 goals attempted), but which the Blues gradually extinguished.
Leading by four lengths at the break (16-12), they continued their momentum, except for a small dip in the middle of the second period which allowed the Swedes to come back to two lengths (24-22, 48e). But five minutes later, after a 3-0 inflicted, the match was folded (30-24).
Regardless of the adversity, the injuries, the trip from Gdansk to Stockholm to play the game while Sweden were warm, their status as European champions and the two defeats conceded, against them, in this same last four during of the last three competitions (World-2021 and Euro-2022).
Guillaume Gille’s players delivered a solid match, leading from start to finish except for the first minutes.
And this, despite the absence of the first two choices at left back, Nikola Karabatic and Thibaud Briet.
The second was in the stands, as against Germany in the quarter-finals, right hand injured. The first appeared on the match sheet after having played only the first twenty minutes, his foot too painful, against the Mannschaft for his return after having missed the two previous meetings.
But he didn’t play a single minute. Whatever, the veteran of the Blues (38 years old, 10e and last World Cup) and Thibaud Briet have been perfectly supplemented by Elohim Prandi and even Romain Lagarde, whose playing time has been reduced yet to a trickle in recent times in selection.
New illustration of the incredible reservoir of French handball and these Blues, affected by seven packages before the competition.
The Swedes were deprived of their playmaker Jim Gottfridsson, injured in the left hand, and they could not find the keys to break through the tricolor safe in his absence.
And their goalkeeper Andreas Palicka (9 saves on 31 shots), who had sickened the French in the semi-finals of Euro-2022, was unable to stop the French waves.
Unlike Vincent Gérard who, after his zero point in the semi-finals, where he had left the hero costume to his replacement Remi Desbonnet, recovered superbly (12/38).
In the game, the French rear base, made up of the trio Nedim Remili (4 goals on 6 shots and 8 assists), Dika Mem (4/5) and Prandi (2/5), was untenable. Like this kung fu between the first two (32e ; 17-13).
Sweden had locked the game with the pivots, one of the French strong points, but it gradually loosened the grip and the Olympic champions delivered a complete, almost perfect match.
They will have to repeat it on Sunday to cap a seventh world crown.