Highly favored reigning champion Croatia was dethroned after conceding 23-25 to France in the semifinals of Beijing Olympic men's handball tournament on Friday.
French right back Cedric Burdet ignited the team with five goals from five shots in the first half, giving the fifth placer at Athens a 12-11 lead by the break. And center back Daniel Narcisse netted in six points in the second half, including two in the final minutes to seal the final berth for France.
Talking about his last goal, Narcisse appeared excited. "It was a flying jump shot. We had trouble getting past the Croatian defence, but we had guys who could jump over them."
"We knew the game would be tough. Defence is the key to our victory. We could have enjoyed an easier win but for the nerves from the semifinals and some slapdash shots during the match,"said French coach Claude Onesta in a post-match conference.
The tight match witnessed seventeen draws from the two sides and came to a deadlock with six minutes on the clock, when France led 24-22 and no team managed a goal in the following five minutes.
Narcisse's diving shot broke the deadlock and widened the gap to three goals, while left wing Goran Sprem's last minute goal was too late to save the Croats.
"It's unbelievable. We're in the final and we're sure to get a medal. We knew we played good, especially today, we played good defence on the ball. And we were fast on the breaks. It was just so beautiful," said French star left back Karabatic, newly elected IHF World Handball Player of the Year in 2007.
Participating in Olympic Games twice and winning two gold medals in 1996 and 2004, Croatia is the most efficient team in Olympic history. However, their legend ended in Beijing and they have to fight for the bronze against the winner of the match between Iceland and Spain.