May 26, 2022

French handball players return to the Olympic final

It was untenable, but they held on. The French had dismissed the Netherlands (32-22) in the quarterfinals of the Olympic handball tournament, yet they had all the difficulties to get rid of the Swedes in the semi-finals, Friday, August 6, in Tokyo. They got there in just the dying minutes: victory 29 to 27.

The Blue will play their final on Sunday against the Norwegians or the Russians. It will be their second straight final at the Games, after the one lost to Russia in Rio de Janeiro five years ago. Only the Olympic title is still missing from the list of world (2017) and European (2018) champions.

Members and substitutes together, the whole team exulted in front of empty stands – the Covid having forced, this summer, the organizers behind closed doors. “There is inevitably a little sadness to say to oneself that we cannot live that with the public, but I imagine that we make people vibrate in France and that we transmit them a lot of emotions”, declares Allison Pineau, center-half with complete happiness, who cries of joy.

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On Wednesday, the French could thank their goalkeeper Amandine Leynaud: 22 saves on Dutch shots, for 51% success. Less brilliant on Friday, the Frenchwoman gave up her place at half-time against the Swedes to Cléopatre Darleux.

Four minutes from time, double Darleux parade! This time, it is to the other goalkeeper that the French can say thank you. This double reflex allowed them to preserve the small lead obtained at the end of the match.

“A winding course”

Sweden was “The surprise guest”, according to Olivier Krumbholz, the coach of the France handball team. If the French remain undefeated against the Scandinavians since 2014, they trembled until the end, after having already crossed this opponent in the first round (28-28).

At Yoyogi Stadium, the Bleues had a complicated start to the match, leading only by one goal at half-time (15-14) thanks to a shot from Laura Flippes two seconds from the end of the first period. The start of the match was far more complicated than in their dazzling quarter-final two days earlier against the Dutch world champions (19-11 at the break).

The Swedes had taken the advantage from the outset (2-5). Before the French gradually returned to the match thanks to Allison Pineau, one of the most experienced of the team. Sometimes to equalize a long shot (8-8), sometimes to revive quickly to Chloé Valentini (11-10), on the other side of the field, after an opponent’s shot hitting the crossbar.

“Allison was precious to us, emphasizes center-half Grâce Zaadi. When the ball heats up, when you have to hold it, it plays fair. “ Béatrice Edwige, 32 years old like Pineau, also gives her compliment: “Allison was brilliant, in her long shots, in what she gave us on defense. ” A mastery capable of reassuring an entire collective. “Honestly, I was a little panicked when we couldn’t get away from it yet”, recognizes Pauletta Foppa, 20, the youngest of the team.

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For the French, this second final in a row at the Olympic Games is all the more valuable because they had started badly in Japan. At the end of the first round, they narrowly escaped elimination thanks to a victory over Brazil (29-22), in a match that looked like the round of 16. It was before the quarter won against the Dutch, then this victorious semi-final against the Swedes, synonymous with the Olympic final.

“We had a winding journey, agrees Béatrice Edwige, I do not know that we have been put in difficulty or if we have put ourselves in difficulty. ” A characteristic of these Bleues, according to the rear Laura Flippes: “We are capable of both the best and the worst. The France team is like that, and I’m not sure we’ll change. The important thing is to start with the worst and look for the best at the end. “

“Now we have found the resources”, liked the half-center Méline Nocandy right after the semi-final. “What resources? I do not know. “ But they found them.

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