France’s players celebrate winning against Qatar in the 24th Men’s Handball World Championship final at the Lusail Multipurpose Hall in Doha yesterday. (Reuters)
By Yash Mudgal/Doha
Reigning Olympic and European champions France ended Qatar’s dream run in the 24th Men’s Handball World Championship to win their fifth world championships title yesterday.
Driven by vocal fans at Lusail Multipurpose Hall, Qatar gave a good fight to the mighty French before going down 22-25 in the final.
It was a memorable double, having won the World and European gold in a row, for coach Claude Onesta and his boys, who won the Olympic gold in 2012.
The team, under extremely experienced Onesta, played consistently throughout the tournament and remained undefeated.
“This is a tournament organised to the highest level imaginable. We didn’t come across any problems. We had top teams from all around the world and it was very stimulating,” Onesta said.
France had earlier won the world championship in 1995, 2001, 2009 and 2011.
With the win, France also booked a spot at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, while hosts Qatar, who wrote a new chapter in the history of handball by becoming the first non-European team to reach the world championship final, have qualified for the Olympic Qualification Tournaments which will be held in April 2016.
The two powerful defensive zones provided an electrifying experience in the noisy atmosphere of the sold-out arena. The real spectacle began with the French domination as ‘Les Blues’ managed to stop the host team’s two most dangerous shooters – Zarko Markovic and Rafael Capote. The two top scorers of the squad coached by Valero Rivera netted only one goal each until the 17th minute, the main reason for France’s 9-5 lead.
The outstanding quality of the players Nikola Karabatic and Daniel Narcisse gave a clear advantage to the French side.
The highest French lead in the domination was seen in the 23rd minute at 13-7, but after that Markovic and Capote scored four goals in the last six minutes of the first half to signal a comeback.
Together with a brilliant Danijel Saric between the posts they provided a ray of hope to their fans going into half time.
France went into the break with a three-goal lead (14-11), but it was Qatar who came out stronger when the second half began. The hosts scored two quick breakthroughs to put them just one behind their opponents. France did not take long to respond, also scoring two consecutive goals for a three-goal advantage.
Things got a little close for comfort for France around the 40-minute mark, when a series of Qatari goals coupled with a two-minute suspension for Cedric Sorhaindo enabled Qatar to come within one goal (17-18).
Qatar’s more agile defence troubled the French, but Xavier Barachet, who stepped on the court for the first time in the second half, scored two goals in succession to keep his side ahead.
Six minutes later, Qatar playmaker Kamalaldin Mallash had a chance to level the score, but an experienced Thierry Omeyer saved it as the score read 19-20.
Heroic saves from Omeyer and fast-paced counter-attacks helped France create a three-goal advantage (19-22), which they retained as the clock ticked into the final five minutes (21-24).
A tense few minutes followed, but when Narcisse scored a breakthrough shot in the 58th minute to keep France’s lead at three (22-25) and Omeyer made an important save in the next Qatari attack, the European side began to see the glint of the trophy.
When France had possession with 15 seconds left, it was all over.
French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer said: “We are world champions once again and this gold medal makes me very happy and proud. Qatar have been tough opponents, but we managed to control the rhythm of the final and to always keep a margin.
“I believe that we played a fantastic tournament here and deserved to get the gold medal and return to the top. We are a great team, but a great family as well. To be like a family is the most important factor for a team to have success. We worked hard to be on top and stay on a high level.”
Qatar coach Rivera said: “I am proud of my team for their performance in the championship. They played good handball for 60 minutes today, but to beat a team like France you need to play well throughout the match. I am very happy for everything. This country, this association and this team deserve this silver medal. I dedicate this achievement to the Qatar Handball Federation and to my three grandchildren.”
Speaking about the spectator support at the championship, Qatar’s right back Hadi Hamdoon, said: “I have never played in front of so many enthusiastic supporters in my life before. It was awesome, a unique experience for me.”
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