In a match whose finale was broadcast live on BBC 1 France emerged victorious over Sweden. The Swedes were tenacious but ultimately were always chasing the game. They played well above expectations in even reaching the final but the defeat does represent the fourth time they’ve finished second in the Olympics whereas France joined the Norwegian women in retaining their Beijing title.
The decisive section of the match came after twenty minutes when France turned a 7-7 tied game into a 10-7 advantage that Sweden were never able to pull back despite the best efforts of Niclas Ekberg (6/8) who presumably did his search for a club after the collapse of AG København no harm at all. The French enjoyed most of the support of the Basketball Arena and there were suitably insane scenes after the final whistle went.
Later, according to YouTube, the French dismantled the L’Equipe TV set live on air. You can do that sort of thing if you’re Olympic champions.
So it has come down to this. Where once were twelve, now there are two. Today’s final in the incongruously-named Basketball Arena will be between two sides who played in their semi finals as if it were their destiny to be in gold medal game. There the similarity ends because France are current Olympic and World champions and Sweden have not won a major title in a decade.
Defence, in particular goalkeeping, won the day in the both semi finals: Mattais Andersson stopped 13 shots as Sweden blocked Hungary but Thierry Omeyer topped that by saving 19 of 41 shots against Croatia. He was particularly effective in the opening ten minutes as France built a comfortable lead that meant that the Croats were always chasing the game.
Despite the similarities in the building blocks of their semi final victories it is hard to see past France who will surely have too many weapons for Sweden. For Sweden to win they will need Omeyer to have an off day, they will need somehow to get a steady flow of fast breaks (they had 6 against Hungary, scoring 4; France allowed Croatia only one) and they will also need to up their solidity at the back. France are not Hungary, they will be harder to tempt into rushing their game. France can also spread their scoring personnel more broadly than Sweden.
But this is a final and strange things happen in finals. That said, something beyond strange will need to happen for France to lose and so my prediction is that France will hit the front early and stay there, winning by 4.
8.30pm, Croatia v France (BBC Olympics 7, Sky Channel 456 & BBC online)
Congratulations if you predicted that these would be the four teams to contest the men’s semi finals at the Olympics. Double congratulations if you put money on as your winnings have probably got you a small Caribbean island. But these are the four and they divide into two distinct semi finals, one a heavyweight contest the other a not-so-heavyweight contest.
In the latter is Sweden who are obviously a Handball Giant (TM) but who haven’t won a major title since 2002. This probably explains why they reacted like they’d won the gold medal when they beat Denmark 24:22 in the quarter final. They will need to stay focused to get past Hungary who have equalled their previous best in the Olympics by getting to this stage.
Hungary got to the semi final by beating Iceland in a double extra time match. They showed their strengths in coming from behind at the death twice (once in normal time, again in the first extra time) but also failed to close out big leads during the second half of the match.
My prediction is for a match with wild fluctuations in the lead but that Sweden will emerge victorious where they will play …
Both France and Croatia came from behind in their quarter finals. Croatia endured a particularly physical encounter against Tunisia and were particularly indebted to the fact that Ivan Cupic was able to keep his head and keep scoring. They shouldn’t need quite so much protection from the referees today.
France scored their winning goal on 59:59 having overturned a 3-goal deficit at half time. They’ll need to improve on a shooting percentage of 49% and get some scoring support for William Accambray (who got that last-second goal).
My prediction is for an insanely tight match with occasional violent conduct but that France will edge it by the odd goal in 57.
So having predicted that I look forward to a Hungary v Croatia final.