French handball players knew it: it is difficult to stop Vikings in search of gold. After a fierce battle, Guillaume Gille’s men lost (34-29) in Stockholm, Sunday January 29, against a brilliant team from Denmark in the World Cup final. The Scandinavians, who led the race from start to finish, offered an unprecedented hat-trick against the team that had beaten them in the final of the Olympic Games in Tokyo, eighteen months ago. In the match for third place, Spain dominated Sweden (36-39).
In the Tele2 Arena in Stockholm, where Danish supporters had come in large numbers, the French team had the merit of not resigning themselves after a catastrophic start to the match. Hit in the foot, Nikola Karabatic, who was playing his last World Cup at 38, had to resolve to leave his partners after a quarter of an hour. After being led by five goals, the Habs managed to pick up the score (16-16) after returning from the locker room.
Like Ludovic Fabregas, excluded twice, the French defense, imperial for two weeks, suffered in the face of the Danish fury. Backs Simon Pytlick (9 goals), Mathias Gidsel (6 goals) and Rasmus Lauge (10 goals) delivered a recital. The latter, who had hardly played in the tournament, hit the nail on the head in the last quarter of an hour. By comparison, the French attacking game relied too much on the flashes of Nedim Remili and Dika Mem.
The bankruptcy of the French goalkeepers did the rest. With Kevin Moller and, above all, Niklas Landin, the reigning double best player in the world, Denmark certainly have the best pair of goalkeepers on the planet. Too often let down by their defence, neither Vincent Gérard (4 saves from 25 Danish shots) nor Rémi Desbonnet (3 out of 16) have managed to compete with the Scandinavian goalkeepers.
The defeat has a bitter taste for the Blues, who were aiming for the title. “To stop like that, one step from the finish, it’s hard! »commented Vincent Gérard. “We ran behind in the score and we did not manage to reverse the balance of power, but I am proud of the state of mind of the boys”, reacted Guillaume Gille. “I’m sure this group will bounce back. There are very good young players, people who are hungry. There will be other finals”added Luka Karabatic, the captain of the Blues.
A rough team
Despite this defeat, the Blues have nothing to be ashamed of their career. Undefeated in the group stage, they successively beat Poland in Katowice (26-28), Germany in the quarter-finals (35-28) and, above all, took great revenge in the semi-finals (26-31) on Sweden, in Stockholm, after two defeats at this stage of the competition against this same country at the 2021 World Cup and Euro 2022.
Until the final, the Habs showed real defensive solidity. With Luka Karabatic, Ludovic Fabregas and Nicolas Tournat, they have a trio of world-class pivots. France are a rough team, tough on pain, but they are also creative, especially with Dika Mem, considered the best right-back on the planet.
In the position of playmaker, France also has certainties with a pair of players with very different profiles, which offers Guillaume Gille many tactical options. Nedim Remili, who was voted best center half of the Tokyo Games in 2021, has taken another step forward in this competition, multiplying class gestures. Less flamboyant but just as effective, his alter ego Kentin Mahé presents a more classic conductor profile, capable of getting his partners to play at the right tempo.
In goal, the Vincent Gérard-Rémi Desbonnet duo missed their final, but the two players are complementary. By making fourteen saves against Germany, the second goalkeeper of the Blues showed that he was better than a second knife. The emergence of Charles Bolzinger, who is only 22 years old, also brings hope.
Despite seven withdrawals before the tournament, the depth of the tricolor bench challenges. At 23, Thibaud Briet asserts himself as the successor to Nikola Karapatic as left-back. And when he injured his hand, Elohim Prandi knew how to take over. Rotating his team a lot, coach Guillaume Gille was able to exploit the wealth of his workforce. “No other nation has such a pool of players”believes Philippe Gardent, the pivot of the “Barjots”.
Establishing the list of French players selected for the Paris Games in 2024 will be a headache for Guillaume Gille because it will only include fourteen names (compared to eighteen for a World Cup). If he is not injured, Nikola Karabatic will probably be there for the last big meeting of his long career.
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With its victories at the last three Worlds, Denmark will present itself at the Paris Games, in eighteen months, in the skin of the favorite. In front of their public, the French will be revengeful and will also aim for Olympic gold. “The gap between the best nations is tiny, notes Philippe Gardent. The French will be in the last four, but to think that they will win because they play in Paris would be lacking in humility. »