Handball: Improvement for Team GB but another defeat in the Copper Box

Great Britain 21 Argentina 32

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The Independent Online

Great Britain men may have lost their third successive game at the Olympics at the hands of Argentina this afternoon, but the manner of their rousing first-half performance will only have enhanced the growing popularity of handball in this country.

Although they were thoroughly outclassed in heavy losses against reigning Olympic and world champions France and three-time silver medallists Sweden in their opening two outings, their display against the South Americans in the opening half belied their six-year infancy as a team and gave tremendous hope for the future.

While it is worth pointing out that coach Dragan Djukic had publicly targeted this game as a realistic one to win and the second half took considerable shine off the result, the first-half showing in particular must have exceeded the Serbian tactician's expectations.

The defence put in a sterling show in the opening 30 minutes while Steven Larsson continued to live up to his billing of star man with six goals.

The crowd's support in the Copper Box has not waned over the first two Games, despite the ugly scorelines, and they were immediately rewarded when Chris McDermott threw in the opening goal of the game.

But sloppy play in attack allowed Argentina to gain some control at the other end and three successive goals handed them a 5-2 lead after nine minutes.

Gawain Vincent ended that run with a thunderous seven-metre shot and they could have been level but Larsson and Robin Garnham missed one-on-one chances.

This was the best spell of play that Team GB had been able to manage in the tournament and goals from Mark Hawkins and Larsson sent the partisan home crowd into raptures and then when Garnham threw in a rebound, they had reduced the deficit to just one goal at the midway point of the first period.

However, more handling errors and missed opportunities - the hosts were operating at just 40 per cent conversion rate, meant that the South Americans dominated and opened up a five-goal cushion by the 23rd minute.

But Team GB showed their bulldog spirit and hit back throwing three successive goals for the first time in the tournament to raise the roof off the Copper Box and bring the deficit back down to two.

Further squandered chances saw Argentina go into the break 16-11 to the good, but Djukic's side left the court to a rousing reception that their superb performance had warranted.

In their previous two matches the second halves had been an exercise of damage limitation for Team GB, but this time they were still in the match, though they needed to produce a golden spell to claw back the margin.

Unfortunately they were unable to do so and Argentina scored four of the first six goals after the break to stretch their lead to 20-13.

The home fans had a further goal from Hawkins to cheer, but Eduardo Gabriel Gallardo's side did well to take the sting out of the game and held an unassailable 12-goal lead at the halfway point of the second half thanks to six consecutive goals.

The second-half slump continued and it became nine in a row soon after as Argentina ran away with it to put a real dampener on GB's afternoon.

A seven-metre effort from Vincent and back-to-back goals from Ciaran Williams gave the crowd something to cheer in the final 10 minutes as the hosts stopped the rot, but it was all too late as the South Americans won it at a canter.

Three defeats leaves Team GB rooted to the bottom of Group A, while Argentina's win, which came with the aid of six goals for Sebastian Simonet, gets them off and running.