Olympics-Handball-Denmark overcome Spain in semis to set up Rio rematch with France

TOKYO, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Reigning champions Denmark battled past European title holders Spain 27-23 on Thursday to book their place in the men’s Olympic handball final where they will take on France in a rematch of their Rio 2016 gold medal clash.

France earlier overcame dark horse Egypt 27-23 at the Yoyogi National Stadium to reach their fourth consecutive Olympic final, as the self-titled ‘Les Experts’ look to repeat their triumphs in Beijing 2008 and London 2012.

Denmark have been imperious in Tokyo, but they were made to work hard for a win by Spain before the world champions came through in the end thanks to a stellar display by Mikkel Hansen, who scored 12 goals.

France made a slow start to trail 5-1 but Egypt were unable to tighten their grip on the contest, allowing the Rio runners-up to stage a fightback and go into the halftime break level on 13 goals apiece.

Egypt, who were competing in their first Olympic semi-final, showed their inexperience late in the second half by deploying an extra attacker after taking their goalkeeper off and France made them pay taking a three-goal lead with four minutes left.

Despite a late charge by the ‘Pharaohs’, France held on to secure the win as Dika Mem and Hugo Descat scored five goals each while Nedim Remili and the experienced Nikola Karabatic netted four each.

“I’m so thrilled... we’ll have a medal no matter what. Now we have two days to prepare and come back stronger,” Karabatic, who made his comeback in Tokyo after seven months out with a knee injury, told reporters.

“I gave everything to come back and to be able to play in these Olympics, and since I’m here I try to just focus on the next game, not to think about the medals, the history and everything because it brings too much pressure.”

Goalkeeper Vincent Gerard was the hero for France at the other end of the court with 17 saves, including crucial blocks in the second half.

“In two days, we’re going into the fight of our careers, and we’re going to use all of our strengths in the battle,” Gerard said. “It’s my second final in the Olympics, the first was a defeat. I hope we’re going to change that.”

Egypt face Spain in the bronze medal match before the final on Saturday. (Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson)