August 20, 2008 / 9:09 AM / 12 years ago

Olympics-Handball-Tiny Iceland, mighty France power to semis

BEIJING, Aug 20 (Reuters) - Iceland, the surprise package of the Olympic men’s handball tournament, shot to the semi-finals after a 32-30 win against Poland on Wednesday.

Powerhouse France also advanced after beating Russia 27-24, with French centre back Daniel Narcisse doing a somersault after he scored a goal in the last minute.

Iceland’s right wing Alexander Petersson, centre back Snorri Steinn Gudjonsson and left wing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson relentlessly hammered the Polish goal. Even a last-gasp goal by Mariusz Jurasik did not save the day for Poland.

“It was great, I still cannot believe it. We’re such a small country and we won against a 40-million-people country,” top scorer Petersson told Reuters after the match. “Now there’s going to be a handball boom in Iceland.”

Several Icelandic handballers successfully play for clubs outside their fire-and-ice island, home to only 300,000 people. Back home, few of their compatriots follow their games, preferring to watch football or basketball on television.

“We get about 500 spectators per game,” Iceland right back Olafur Stefansson told Reuters last week. “It’s understandable, sometimes there’s bad weather and you don’t want to go driving 20 minutes through the snow when you can watch TV instead.”

Russia clawed back against France in the second half and briefly stood at 21-22, only to see Narcisse and left wing Olivier Girault hammer in three goals in less than ten minutes.

“During the whole game, I was afraid, but that’s part of the performance. You have to be afraid and take care of every moment, and that’s what we did,” French centre back Bertrand Gille told Reuters after the match.

Narcisse scored nine times, while Girault, right wing Luc Abalo and centre back Bertrand Gille also bombarded the Russian goal.

France will face Croatia or Denmark in the semis, while Iceland will play against Korea or Spain. (Editing by Alex Richardson)

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