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Roundup: World champion Russia into Olympic women's handball semifinals
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08:24, August 20, 2008

Three-time world champion Russia edged out France 32-31 in a thrilling two-overtime-game to enter the semifinals at the Beijing Olympic women's handball tournament on Tuesday.

"Russia is one of the top favorites in Beijing. But I hope France can beat them in the quarterfinal. Compared with Russia, we would rather to play against France," said Hungarian coach Janos Hajdu after his team ruled out Romania 34-30 in an earlier quarterfinal.

Hajdu's hope almost came true, when France, fifth placer in 2007 World Championship, stunned Russia in the first half with a margin of four points. But the world titlist in 2001, 2005 and 2007 nibbled France's advantage after the break and evened the score 24-24, owing to Ekaterina Andryushina's last minute equalizer.

The first overtime ended with another draw with both sides netted home four times respectively. And Russia's solid defence in the last minute of the second overtime ensured their narrow win, leaving the disappointed French players weeping in the empty court.

"French is a very experienced team. We anticipated a tough game but no one could anticipate the two overtimes,"said Russia coach Evgeny Trefilov in a post-game conference.

Meanwhile, French coach Olivier Krumbholz blamed their defeat on the two referees. "I don't think they are qualified to referee an Olympic game. Maybe after the match, they should resign."

With the hard-earned victory, Russia will meet the Hungarian side, who finished fifth at 2004 Athens Games.

Left back Tonje Larsen scored twice in the first five minutes to give Norway a 4-0 start in their 31-24 victory over Olympic debutant Sweden. The Swedish side, appearing a little tense in the court, waited for six minutes to see their opening goal and legged behind with a six points deficit by the interval.

"We did not play well from the beginning of the game. It is tough to change things with Norway leading the first half with six goals. But I am satisfied with the second half, we played aggressively," said Swedish coach Ulf Schefvert in a post-match conference.

Norway did know how to keep their advantage, grabbing the second half firmly in control and never giving Sweden any chance to narrow the gap. Although top scorer Gro Hammerseng finished the game empty-handed, she contributed to the team with a series of beating all assists.

"Of cause we want to win a medal, but we have to focus on the semifinal game first," said Norway coach Marit Breivik, whose team will take on South Korea in the semifinals.

Norway did not want to talking about the medal plan, but their opponent did. After upsetting host China 31-23 in the quarterfinal today, Athens Games runner-up South Korea has already pinned the hope on its third Olympic gold medal.

"I still feel regretful to lose the title to Denmark in Athens four years ago. Our aim in Beijing is still the gold medal. Currently, our players are all in a solid form. We will try our best to bring the gold back to our country," said South Korean pivot Huh Soon-young, who received a silver in the Athens Games.

The South Korean team lost the Olympic title in the final of 2004 Athens Games, conceding 36-38 to Denmark after two periods of extra time and a penalty shootout. And the team also had to see the retirement of several seasoned key players after the heroic loss.

"Both South Korean and Norwegian teams have players playing in Danish handball league. So we are familiar with the opponents. We will not feel too much pressure when facing Norway," said Huh Soon-young, who converted five goals out of six shots today.


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2 USA 26 26 27 79
3 Great Britain 16 9 8 33
4 Australia 11 12 12 35
5 Germany 11 8 9 28
6 Russia 10 14 18 42
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