All-European semi-finals at Olympic GamesArticle
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Hungary, France, Sweden and Croatia win their quarter-finals, EHF EURO champions Denmark eliminated

All-European semi-finals at Olympic Games

Two top favourites and two surprise teams have made it to the semi-finals of the men's Olympic tournament. On Wednesday 8 August Hungary, France, Sweden and Croatia won their quarter-finals and made it to the round of the last four teams that will be played on Friday, 10 August in the Basketball Arena.

The two medal contenders France and Croatia face in the second semi-final after Hungary and Sweden compete to be the first participant in the gold medal match on Sunday, 12 August.

Fixtures for the semi-finals

17:00 hrs
SF 1: Hungary v Sweden

20:30 hrs
SF 2: France v Croatia

Hungary – Iceland 34-33 (16-12), (3-3) (4-3)

Hungary's men's handball team has reached the Olympic Games semi-finals for the fourth time - but they needed two extra-time periods to beat Iceland.  Their match winners were goalkeeper Nandor Fazekas (HUN) and Laszlo Nagy (HUN), who was Hungarian top scorer with nine goals.

The vwinners stood strong and were dominant, trying to nullify the Icelandic counterattacks, and ultimately the Beijing 2008 silver medallists were unable to keep up with their opponents.

The scores were equal until the 23rd minute at 11-11. Then Hungary notched a series of six goals in a row, while goalkeeper Nandor Fazekas (HUN) fended off Iceland's shots.

But Iceland, winner of preliminary round group A, remained unfazed. With his sixth goal, Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson (ISL) equalised at 17-17 in the 37th minute.

125 seconds before the final buzzer, Sigurdsson hit the net to make it 27-26 - the first Icelandic lead after the break. After Hungarian Gergo Ivancsik hit the post, their opponents were in a perfect position with ball possession before a penalty shot with just 10 seconds to go.

Unfortunately Snorri Steinn Gudjonsson (ISL) missed his greatest chance and Fazekas blocked the penalty shot. Mate Lekai (HUN) grabbed the ball, ran towards the Icelandic goal and equalised almost on the buzzer. The first 60 minutes ended 27-27.

The first extra-time period proved inconclusive and ended with the score tied at 30-30. The second extra time was a one-man-show of Nagy (HUN). The right back pushed the score up to 33-31, while Iceland missed too many chances to proceed to their second Olympic semi-final in a row. Hungary had previously reached the semi-finals in 1980, 1988 and 2004.

France – Spain 23-22 (9-12)

A goal in the dying seconds from William Accambray (FRA) gave defending Olympic champion France a 23-22 win against Spain. France were behind for most of the match, but seven goals from Accambray in the second half and some vital saves from goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer (FRA) were key in the hard-fought victory.

Goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik (ESP) was in great shape in the first 16 minutes of the match as Spain jumped to a 6-1 lead but France had reduced the gap to 12-9 by half-time thanks to line player Cedric Sorhaindo (FRA), who scored four goals in the first half.

Claude Onesta's (French coach) decision to replace wing player Guillaume Joli in the starting list with backcourt shooter Accambray was a masterstroke as the player from Montpellier became the hero for the French team.

In the first 20 minutes of the second half Accambray scored six times including three goals in a row to make it 20-17. The first of those three goals, in the 48th minute, gave France its first lead of the match.

By the time Spain lost all rhythm and did not score in an eleven minute spell in the middle of the second period but managed to fight back to equalise at 22-22 after a goal of Viktor Toma. But Accambray continued his mission and decided the game with one last goal.

Sweden – Denmark 24-22 (11-9)

Sweden returned after a 12-year absence from the Olympic Games men's handball and sensationally knocked out EHF EURO champions Denmark. They snatched a 24-22 (11-9) victory in the quarter-final duel with their Scandinavian neighbours and on the final buzzer the team ran to congratulate their brilliant goalkeeper Johan Sjostrand (SWE) for his 14 saves.

Sjostrand, however, was not the only match winner for the Swedes. Dalibor Doder scored six goals while Niclas Ekberg, who played for the Danish club AG Kobenhavn last season, notched the last two goals to seal victory.

Hans Lindberg was top scorer for Denmark with five goals.

While three times Olympic silver medallist Sweden were strong in defence, Denmark had counter-attacking wing players, Hans Lindberg and Anders Eggert, turning on the power. Until the 40th minute, world handball player of the year Mikkel Hansen (DEN) performed well below his usual level but then he burst into action to score four goals, including an equaliser to make it 16-16.

When Kasper Sonergaard (DEN) scored, the Danes were leading for the first time, 18-17, but Sweden struck back and Ekberg secured the victory with his two late goals.

Croatia – Tunisia 25-23 (11-12)

Croatia had to fight much harder than expected, but in the end the Croatian men's team remains the only squad in the London 2012 handball competition with a 100% victory record. The team won its quarter-final against Tunisia, 25-23, after surprisingly being down 12-11 at the break. At their fourth Olympic Games the Croats reached their fourth semi-final.

However the Basketball Arena was more a battlefield than a handball court in the last quarter-final of the handball competition. Both defensive sides played a physically brutal match causing a lot of injury breaks by punches or other severe fouls, including a direct red card against Heykel Megannem (TUN) in the 24th minute after a clash with Ivan Cupic (CRO).

Tunisia tried everything to stop clearly favoured Croatia in the first half and the 1996 and 2004 Olympic champions played disappointingly bad, which brought that Tunisia led for nearly the whole of the first half, entering the dressing room with a 12-11 margin.

Pushed on by wing player Cupic, again top scorer with eight goals, Croatia returned to the winning path in the second half. At 18-14 the margin was at a four-goal difference for the first time, and despite a constant Tunisian resistance the win was not endangered anymore.

TEXT: Björn Pazen