LONDON, Jan 29 (Reuters) - By Zoran Milosavljevic BELGRADE, Jan 29 (Reuters) - Denmark won the European Handball Championship final by beating hosts Serbia 21-19 on Sunday to clinch the only automatic berth for the 2012 London Olympics.
Serbia, who won their first handball medal as an independent nation, will join fifth-placed Macedonia in a qualifying tournament in April to decide additional places at the Games.
Bronze medal winners Croatia and fourth-placed Spain had earlier sealed spots in the Olympic qualifying tournament, on the basis of their placements in last year’s world championship.
Having lost two of their opening three games at Euro 2012, Denmark, who also won the title in 2008, stormed back with five wins in a row and always controlled a physical and low-scoring final in front of 20,000 passionate fans in the Belgrade Arena.
Their top performer Mikkel Hansen, who had struggled in the early stages of the 16-nation event, was unstoppable with nine goals from 13 shots and buried any hopes of a Serbian comeback in the dying seconds after a fast break.
It was sweet revenge for Denmark, who lost to Serbia in the preliminary group stage of the competition and stood only a slim chance of progressing to the medal rounds after carrying zero points to the second phase of the two-week tournament.
“We gave everything we had but we were emotionally and physically drained after the semi-final win over Croatia and we had little left in the tank for today’s match,” Serbia’s right back Marko Vujin told a news conference.
“Full credit to Denmark, we were beaten by the best team in the world who also have the best player in the world in Hansen,” said Serbia’s coach Veselin Vukovic.
His Denmark opposite number Ulrik Wilbek added: “It was a tough tactical battle and our strong defence made all the difference, along with the fantastic Hansen of course. Serbia can be very proud of their achievement.”
The Serbian team thus fell short of giving the country a treble celebration on Sunday after world number one Novak Djokovic retained his Australian Open tennis title and the men’s water polo team won the European Championship in Netherlands.
Earlier on Sunday, Croatia won the bronze medal with a 31-27 win over Spain thanks to seven goals from left back Blazenko Lackovic and six by pivot Igor Vori. (Editing by Ken Ferris; To query or comment on this story email firstname.lastname@example.org)