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WHC: France wary of golden opportunity

Other Sports
Thu, 26 Jan 2017
AFP


Paris: Defending champions France insist the harsh lessons of their shock Olympic Games final defeat to Denmark will teach them not to under-estimate Slovenia when they meet in the world handball championships semi-final on Thursday.

The French are favourites to retain the title they won in Qatar two years ago following the shock exits of Rio Olympic champions Denmark and European champions Germany in the last 16.

France are the only Rio 2016 semi-finalists to make it to the last four where victory on Thursday would give them a place in the final against either Norway or Croatia.

"We didn't set goals, we wanted to win every game we played and now reaching the semi-finals looks like an enormous goal," said star French player Nikola Karabatic.

"We're very proud of everything we have done so far, but we also know the hardest part is yet to come. We've done something big but we still haven't got anything around our neck."

The French will be comfortable favourites against Slovenia having won 29-27 in a world championship preparation game and 33-26 in a first round encounter.

Slovenia have only won one international medal -- a bronze in the 2004 European championships that they hosted -- while France have clinched seven of the last 11 major tournaments staged.

"Two or three years ago, my young players wanted to have the autographs from (French stars) Daniel Narcisse and Nikola Karabatic," said Slovenia coach Veselin Vujovic who was the first ever World Handball Player of the Year in 1988.

"But tomorrow we are going to play against these perfect players."

There will be few secrets between the two nations as Jure Dolenec and Vid Kavticnik currently play for the Montpellier club. Borut Mackovsek and Matej Gaber are former standouts at the French league team.

"I'm not so young, so I will not have many opportunities to win a medal -- this is really a good occasion to win one," said 28-year-old right-back Dolenec.

On Friday, Croatia should start as favourites against Norway although their last world title came back in 2003 while they were also Olympic gold medallists in 1996 and 2004.

Croatia edged 2013 world champions Spain 30-29 in the quarter-finals thanks to nine goals from left-back Marko Mamic, as Norway booked their first semi-final at the worlds with a 31-28 win over Hungary.

Norway broke new ground at the world championships with Espen Lie Hansen, Sander Sagosen and goalkeeper Torbjorn Bergrund laying the groundwork for their quarter-final win.

The final of the tournament takes place in Paris on Sunday.

Semi-finals (1945GMT)

Thursday

France v Slovenia

Friday

Norway v Croatia

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