Handball: Team GB suffer heavy defeat to reigning gold medallists France

 

Great Britain men's six-year journey in pursuit of the Olympic dream came to fruition tonight, though it ended in a heavy defeat to reigning gold medallists France.

It seems a fitting reward that Team GB were able to make their Games debut sharing the court with the French, who are widely regarded to be the best side in the sport's history, after the substantial personal sacrifice the majority of the squad have made to be here.

Lives have been put on hold for the last six years after it was announced that Great Britain would form a team with the intention of competing at London, with many players sleeping on floors and painting toilet blocks in various outposts of Europe in a bid to get by.

Being in its infancy as a handballing nation, Team GB were always going to be outclassed by the defending Olympic and world champions and for all the progress they have made since 2006, the scoreline highlights just how far they have got to go to compete on the world stage.

Les Bronzes showcased exactly why they are the favourites to retain their title, with an imposing display of physicality and a strong defence, though the opening 20 minutes will have given the hosts extreme pride and cause for optimism.

Having watched the women's side perform so admirably against Montenegro last night and make such a positive impression on the unsuspecting British public, Dragan Djukic's side will have been keen to follow suit and they had the crowd rocking when they scored the opening goal, Steven Larsson thundering in their maiden strike at the Olympic Games.

France's superiority soon told and they rattled off six successive goals to lead 7-2 in the 13th minute, but Team GB did not allow the champions to run away with it and back-to-back goals from Robin Garnham and Chris Mohr kept the home crowd interested and the deficit down to three.

But their continental opponents again flexed their muscles, scoring seven unanswered strikes, and with a measly defence, they shut the hosts out, claiming an unassailable 16-6 lead after 24 minutes.

Another strong spell saw that become 21-7 by the half-time break and it really was a case of damage limitation for Djukic's men.

Unfortunately it was more of the same in the second half as France scored at regular intervals and their task was made all the easier seven minutes after the restart when Larsson was sent off somewhat harshly when former world player of the year Nikola Karabatic appeared to trip over himself.

France had license to play freely and they put GB to the sword, hitting the back of the net almost at will.

It was a hard final 20 minutes for the numerically-disadvantaged Team GB and they eventually lost by 29 goals.

Guillaume Joli top scored for the champions with 11, while Garnham threw in six for the hosts including two late on as the home crowd were given some cause for cheer.

PA

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