France edge handball thriller to win gold

Defending men's handball champions France were pushed all the way in a gripping Olympic final on Sunday but retained their crown, edging a tight contest to beat unfancied Sweden 22-21.

After their victory in Beijing in 2008, the powerful French side went on to become the first men's team in history to hold the Olympic, world and European titles at the same time.

But Claude Onesta's side also had something to prove after a disappointing campaign at January's European championships in Serbia, where they failed to reach the semi-finals.

"We were superb. The players were outstanding and the fans incredible. What a magnificent game, atmosphere and occasion," said Onesta.

"It is something I will never forget for the rest of my life. To win it four years ago was fantastic but to do it in London in the next Olympics was even better."

"I thought my team played a hard, strong game both in defence and attack. We had our plan and it came off," he added.

In a cagey opening at the Basketball Arena, the score was 3-3 in the 11th minute, with goalkeeper Johan Sjostrand impressing in the Swedish goal and neither side able to impose themselves on the contest.

The French team led 10-8 at the break but the tenacious Swedes pulled one back seconds after the restart.

Midway through the second half France still led by the narrowest of margins but with the noisy crowd belting out La Marseillaise, the Scandinavians crucially failed to get back on level terms, with French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer making some vital saves.

Amid mounting tension, a penalty for Sweden brought the scores back to 21-20 as the seconds ticked away but a strike by Luc Abalo restored a two-goal margin and that ultimately proved enough.

Michael Guigou top-scored for the French, with five goals. Niclas Ekberg was the topscorer for Sweden, with six goals.

Sweden, who were not expected to advance much further than the quarter-finals, having been a team in transition, also won silver in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

"We did not attack the way we can. Defensively we were strong but we could have been better in attack and scored more goals," said Sweden coach Staffan Olsson.

"But we have to accept the defeat and think about the positive things. Even though it is hard right now to do that."

Earlier, Croatia came out on top in the bronze medal match, overcoming Hungary 33-26.

France's William Accambray jumps to shoot during the men's gold medal handball match between Sweden and France for the London 2012 Olympics Games at the Basketball Arena in London. France won the gold medal.