Clash of giants in duel between Olympic and world champions

MATCH PREVIEW: For the first time France meet Spain in an EHF EURO semi-final

Photos: Uros Hocevar / Stephane Pillaud

One side praises the other, and both show the highest respect towards each other: Before the first EHF EURO 2014 semi-final between France and Spain on Friday (18.30 hrs) in Herning, both powerhouses of European handball remain humble.

"Spain are a great team with brilliant players on all positions, a huge competitor, they are the world champions, that says it all," said French line player Igor Anic.

"France have improved constantly in this competition, they are world class, all of their players are on the top of the world on their positions. It will really be hard to beat them," said Spanish coach Manuel Cadenas.

Even though France have played four Men’s EHF EURO Semi-finals to date and Spain had five appearances, both never faced before at an EHF EURO Semi-final.

However, they met in an EHF EURO Final once, when in 2006 in Switzerland France took their first of two EHF EURO trophies beating Spain 31:23.

Whenever France made it to the final, they won: First in 2006 and for the second time in 2010.

In contrast, Spain lost all three finals they qualified for in 1996, 1998 and 2006 and are still waiting for their first appearance on the winners' podium at EHF EURO level.

Both teams have five wins on their tally. While Spain lost the duel for the top position in Main Round Group I against Denmark, France took five straight wins from the first six matches to top Group II, before losing the final main round match against Sweden.

The last time both teams faced was in the Olympic quarter-final in London, when Spain were on the winners’ track, before French coach Claude Onesta played his joker, William Accambray, who scored six goals in the second half including the winning strike with the final whistle to make it 23:22.

With victories over Croatia and Sweden, France eventually defended their Olympic gold medals.

France and Spain also faced in three bronze medal matches: Spain took 1996 Olympic bronze in Atlanta with a 27:25 win, followed by a 24:23 in the EHF EURO 2000 bronze final against France, while France took revenge with a 27:23 victory in the World Championship 2013 bronze medal match.

In the overall balance France have won 18 times, Spain ten times, and four matches ended in a draw.

"France are the favourites, maybe by 60 to 40 percent, as they are stronger than us," said Spanish top scorer Joan Canellas.

But he added: "The defence will decide, so if we defend better compared to our main round matches, we have a chance."

On both sides key players returned to their squads after injuries during the competition: French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer and Spanish line player Julen Aguinagalde – and both straight away took on a key role in their teams.

written by Björn Pazen / ts