Swift finish lifts France to Main Round Group I win

22 Jan. 2023

Swift finish lifts France to Main Round Group I win

France secured their sixth win in a row at the 2023 IHF Men's World Championship, mounting a comeback in the second half against Spain (28:26) to clinch first place in Group I of the main round in Krakow. It is the fourth time in history that France started the world handball flagship competition with six wins in a row, winning the trophy in two of the three previous instances.

Main Round Group I

Spain vs France 26:28 (13:13)

The traditional battle between Spain and France was going into its 39th episode in official competitions as the two European powerhouses were clashing for first place in the Main Round Group I in Krakow; with Spain, in a must-win situation, they were to clinch that place.

With both teams qualified for the quarter-finals and believing that they could topple any opponent, Spain and France made some changes in their squad, with France's coach Guillaume Gille finally reinserting right back Dika Mem into the system after the superstar missed four matches due to an abdominal strain.

On the other hand, Spain had some changes of their own, with 21-year-old left wing Daniel Fernández – the "hummel Player of the Match" – taking the court from the first minute, as well as right back Imanol Garciandia, both players never having featured prominently in the past five matches.

But they duly proved they deserved the chance to feature in such an important match, combining for seven goals for Spain in the first half as the most prolific goal scorers for Jordi Ribera's side, which also got a huge lift from goalkeeper Rodrigo Coralles, who saved eight shots for a 42% saving efficiency.

However, the match was marred by the high number of turnovers conceded by both sides – eight by Spain and five by France only in the first half – especially as Jordi Ribera decided to attack the game with an ultra-aggressive plan, taking plenty of risk by substituting the goalkeeper for an outfield player in attack.

That seven-on-six scenario did not pan out, helping France score twice in the open goal, using a 4:0 run to establish a 9:6 lead after 19 minutes, which enabled "Les Experts" to dream bigger and exert some control of the match. But that dream ended immediately after a well-taken timeout by Ribera.

The pause to regroup shifted the momentum totally in Spain's favour, sucking all of the oxygen in France's wings, as Spain came back, dusted off the cobwebs in attack with Alex Dujshebaev's emergence as a go-to player and helped the runners-up at the EHF EURO 2022 to tie the score at the break, 13:13.

With a 6:3 start to the second half, Spain looked a good bet to win as their attack started to get up to par with the requirements, with France committing turnover after turnover and losing the ball five times in six minutes through unforced errors.

But the game was far from over, as more surprises were in the bag. Despite rotating his players throughout the whole match, Guillaume Gille stayed calm and his presence rubbed off on his players, who started to get better and better, raising the stakes, with Vincent Gérard shining once again as one of the most consistent goalkeepers at Poland/Sweden 2023 and delivering another masterclass.

Riding on Gérard's saves, who stopped 16 shots for a 39% efficiency in the match, France used two runs – 4:1 and 5:1 – to turn the game on its head. The connection between backs and line players worked out wonders, with four of those nine goals coming from Ludovic Fabregas and Nicolas Tournat and Spain finding no way to stop the supply of passes.

"Los Hispanos" went once again out of their way to save the game, deploying the same seven-on-six tactic, but it eventually failed to yield any result, with France firmly in control. In fact, it was a stint of nine minutes and 48 seconds without a goal for Spain which fueled France's win, their sixth in a row in the competition.

For the fourth time in history and for the second time in a row, France have started an edition of the IHF Men's World Championship with six consecutive wins, winning the trophy two times when that was the case, both times on the home court, in 2001 and 2017. Last time, at Egypt 2021, the reigning Olympic champions lost both the semi-final and the bronze-medal match.

The only minus for France was losing left back Elohim Prandi to an ankle injury in the last minute of the match, as the stalwart twisted his ankle and looked in severe pain when he left the court.

With the 28:26 win, France sealed first place in the group and will face the second-placed side in Group III in the quarter-final, which will be either Norway or Germany. As Spain finished second, they will face the winner of Group III, which will be decided in Katowice on Monday, with "Los Hispanos" having their five-match winning streak at Poland/Sweden 2023 snapped.

hummel Player of the Match: Daniel Fernandez Jiménez (Spain)