(E) Croatia break through for gold on final day of Olympics
Croatia break through for handball gold on final day of Olympics
ATHENS (AFP) - World champions Croatia claimed their country's first gold medal at the Athens Olympics with victory in the men's handball final.
Croatia added the gold medal to the one they won at the 1996 Atlanta Games in downing Germany 26-24 in a charged final at Helliniko.
Up to the last day of competition in Athens, Croatia had won two silver and two bronze medals. Croatia finished strongly in the final stages of the gold medal play-off pulling out to a 24-21 lead with two minutes left. The Germans had been up by three goals, 15-12 early in the second half, but the inspired Croats were too quick on the break and defended their goal area powerfully. Mirza Dzomba topscored with nine goals, the same as the Germans' most dangerous attacking player Stefan Kretzschmar. Germany were bidding for their second handball gold medal at the Olympics after winning in Berlin in 1936, although the former East Germany won the title in Moscow in 1980. Croatia raced to an early 2-0 lead in the charged full-house atmosphere generated by the two sets of opposing supporters with every physical exchange cheered.
Germany took until the fifth minute to score through pivot Christian Schwarzer but gradually reeled Croatia in and hit the front 4-3 with a 12th-minute goal by classy left-winger Kretzschmar.
Germany went on a run of four goals, two of them to Kretzschmar, to jump to a 8-5 lead on 17 minutes, but lost tall right-back Volker Zerbe to a two-minute suspension.
The Germans lost right-back Christian Zeitz to another two-minute suspension as Croatia clawed back to level at 9-9 with left-winger Goran Sprem's third goal in the 25th minute.
Left-back Daniel Stephan netted twice in three minutes to put the Germans out to a 12-10 advantage, but their third two-minute suspension, this time to left-back Frank von Behren gave Croatia the opportunity to pull one back in the final seconds before halftime to right-winger Dzomba.
Germany led 15-12 after 36 minutes but Croatia gradually turned things around with Dzomba and Petar Metlicic among the goals.
They lost centre-back Slavko Goluza twice for two-minute suspensions, but with the scores tied at 20-20 and five minutes left the Germans lost centre-back Markus Baur for knocking the arm of Dzomba as he broke away and bore down on the German goal.
His two-minute suspension left the Germans with five men and Croatia took advantage storming out to 22-20 and building it to 24-21 with left-winger Niksa Kaleb's second goal in as many minutes.
It was a margin that the Germans could not overhaul.