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Claude Onesta’s team won their fourth World Champion title in Sweden.

»World Championships Channel »2011 Men's News

Unstoppable Frenchmen

Once again the French team wrote history at the moment when team captain Jerome Fernandez raised the huge and heavy trophy into the confetti rain of Malmö. By beating Denmark by two goals after extra time in the most thrilling World Championship final of the last decades, the French team broke a spell: They are the first team after Romania in 1974 to defend a Men’s Handball World Champion title.

“It is the absolute satisfaction, but it was real hard struggle. Denmark pushed us towards our limits,” French coach Claude Onesta said. Les Bleus are now directly qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2013 World Championship in Spain.

The French remained the only unbeaten team of the tournament and had three players in the All Star Team: Goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer, pivot Bertrand Gille and Nikola Karabatic, who was also Most Valuable Player. For France it was the fourth victory at World Championships after 1995, 2001 and 2009.

Despite the injuries of their top stars Daniel Narcisse and Guillaume Gille, France still were clear favourites prior to the tournament, whereas their final opponents, Denmark, were the biggest surprise. “We played a fantastic tournament and we didn’t lose one match in normal time. Outstanding,” coach Ulrik Wilbek said.

His young team performed a very modern form of high speed handball, but missed their first ever World Championship title quite closely. For Denmark this “home match final” in Malmö – as thousands of fans had crossed the sea to support their team – was the first World Championship final since 1967.

Two youngsters were the top stars of the Danish team: goalkeeper Niklas Landin (22), who showed beautiful saves not only in the final but over the whole tournament, and sharp shooter Mikkel Hansen (23), top scorer of the tournament. “Hansen and Karabatic were the best players in Sweden,” all experts including Wilbek agreed.

Thriller final

The final itself was a real thriller: for most of the time France was in lead, several times with a three goal margin. But when Bo Spellerberg scored two seconds before the final whistle, everything was open again: after a 31:31, extra time had to decide the winner.

And just like in the 60 minutes before, both goalkeepers as well as Hansen and Karabatic imprinted the game. The shooters scored ten goals each.

Although Denmark started well in extra time and took the lead for the very first time at the score of 33:32, the French team was experienced enough to stand the pressure in front of the of 13,000 enthusiastic spectators. It was team captain Fernandez, while winning his third WCh title, decided the game with two late goals.

“Both teams will meet in several finals in the future,” French coach Onesta mentioned, and his Danish counterpart agreed. Onesta led the French to their fourth straight title: 2008 Olympic Games, 2009World Champions, 2010 European Champions and now 2011 World Champions.

Spain win Bronze

In the match before the final, Spain beat Sweden in the Bronze match with one goal. The two teams were on eye level over the whole time, the Iberians managed to decide the match in their favour against the host nation in the very last minute.

Olympics Qualification

As France is directly qualified for the Olympic Games, Denmark, Spain and Sweden – placed second, third and fourth – will host the qualification tournaments in April 2012.

Three more nations qualified for those tournaments in Sweden: Croatia (5th place), Iceland (6th) and Hungary, who beat Poland in the placement game for seventh place.

Like two years before in Croatia, the best Non-European team finished on twelfth place, and the Gauchos from Argentina managed to get a lot of positive reaction to their playing style.

In total 430,000 spectators attended the 98 matches in Sweden. This means that 80 percent of all tickets were been sold. All 100 doping tests before and during the tournament were negative. The matches were broadcasted live by 43 TV stations to 162 counties, which meant a new record.

Final Ranking

Gold: France
Silver: Denmark
Bronze: Spain
4. Sweden
5. Croatia
6. Iceland
7. Hungary
8. Poland
9. Norway
10. Serbia
11. Germany
12. Argentina
13. Korea
15. Algeria
16. Japan
17. Slovakia
18. Austria
19. Romania
20. Tunisia
21. Brazil
22. Chile
23. Bahrain
24. Australia

All Star Team

Left wing: Harvard Tvedten (Norway)
Right wing: Vedran Zrnic (Croatia)
Pivot: Bertrand Gille (France)
Left back: Mikkel Hansen (Denmark)
Centre back: Dalibor Doder (Sweden)
Right back: Alexander Petersson (Iceland)
Goalkeeper: Thierry Omeyer (France)

Most Valuable Player: Nikola Karabatic (France)

TEXT: Björn Pazen