Porte opens the door to the final for France

MATCH REVIEW: Olympic champions beat world champions Spain 30:27 in a thrilling semi-final

Photo: Stephane Pillaud

For the third time after 2006 and 2010, when they eventually topped the podium, France have reached the final of a Men's EHF EURO event.

The reigning Olympic and double EHF EURO champions beat world champions Spain in a thrilling and emotional semi-final on Friday (24 January) in Herning  30:27 (12:14).

Match winners were goalkeeper Cyril Dumoulin and the top scorers Luc Abalo (eight goals) and Valentin Porte (seven goals, awarded best French player).

"Spain was in front at half-time and we were a little worried. It was a big fight as always against Spain," said Daniel Narcisse.

"It wasn't our best game, but everybody gives the best and that gives us the victory."

Spain were on eye level for the entire match despite a weak start, but even  ten goals of Joan Canellas (awarded best player for the third time in this tournament) were not enough to take revenge for the defeat in the Olympic quarter-final 2012.

After a sensational start of goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer, who saved the first four Spanish shots, France took a clear 7:2 lead, as mainly Luc Abalo impressed the fans by sensational goals.

Spain were in a state of shock and nearly unable to score.

Even a timeout of coach Manuel Cadenas did not stop the downswing immediately.

France seemed to be on the winners' way quite early, but then everything changed completely.

The saves of goalkeeper Jose Manuel Sierra worked like a wake-up call for the rest of his team, while the Olympic champions lost their pace, rhythm and concentration in attack.

When Spain had reduced the gap to 7:11, French coach Claude Onesta took his timeout - but the style of play did not change: When Michael Guigou stroke to make it 12:9 in the 24th minute, it was already the last French goal in the first half.

Boosted by four unanswered goals of the extraordinary Joan Canellas, who now ranks second in the top scorer ranking with 42 goals (hehind Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson (44)), Spain turned the match around, equalised at 12:12 and even took a 14:12 lead and left France behind clueless and Omeyer really angry despite his seven saves in 30 minutes.

"In the last moments we had the chance to win, but in the important moments the French team knew what to do," Canellas said after the match.

"We lost some one-on-one actions and other important situations in the match. It hurts a lot."

The message that head coach Onesta gave his players at half-time was clearly understood.

Right after Spain scored just at the beginning of the second to grant themselves with their first three-goal lead at 15:12, the rollercoaster turned  again.

France scored a 6:1 series to be back on track at 18:16. 

But after 38 minutes both Karabatic brothers, Luka and Nikola, had already received two two-minute suspensions each - so the French defence block was in danger.

Eight minutes before the end Luka Karabatic had his early departure from the court receiving a red card following his third suspension.

With 20 minutes on the clock, both sides had changed their goalkeepers: Cyril Dumoulin replaced Omeyer, Gonzalo Perez de Vargas entered the court for Sierra.

And Dumoulin did a perfect job, saving a huge number of low distance shots, keeping his team on the right track.

But his saves were not enough, as a Canellas-driven Spain again equalised at 20:20.

On the other side Valentin Porte became the strongest French weapon in attack, scoring six of his seven goals after the break.

The match was on the edge. France took the lead, Spain equalised, no team could cast off their opponent by more than one goal, until Porte hit the net to make it 27:25 five minutes before the end.

And a magic save of Dumoulin against Valero Rivera paved the way for the decision, as Luc Abalo hit the net to make it 29:26 90 seconds before the end.

"This game will hardly stay in the memory of a coach in terms of quality, but even without showing high technical abilities we were able to fight and compete with Spain," said head coach Claude Onesta

"Now we will try to recover for the final and do our best. We were in many finals in the past, but as we are here with a new team, we are really looking forward to this."

written by Björn Pazen / ts