SPORTS

Handball side delights again

The national handball team, through to the second phase of the Men’s World Championship in Tunisia, augmented its chances of a place in the semifinals with a marvelous 29-24 win over Russia, the bronze medalist at the Athens Olympics, late on Tuesday night. It was hailed as the team’s greatest-ever victory. Greece now leads the six-member Group 1, on equal points with host Tunisia and France. Greece’s better overall record, however, gives it top spot. Victory in its final group game, this afternoon against the Czech Republic, would send Greece through to the semifinals as the group’s winner. A draw or defeat could also suffice, but that would depend on the group’s other results. Greece needed to beat the mighty Russians to stay alive following a disappointing 37-29 loss to Slovenia a day earlier. Also included in the group are France and Tunisia, which Greece confronted in first-round play. Those results, a win against France and a draw against Tunisia, also stand for the second phase, meaning that, following yesterday’s triumph, Greece has accumulated five points after two wins, a draw and loss in the second round. The national team defended solidly in the opening minutes of play to keep a clean sheet and establish a 3-0 lead after three minutes. Greece led 5-1 in the ninth minute. Over the next four minutes, however, the Russians rebounded to level at 5-5 before going ahead 9-7 after 19 minutes. Both sides then took turns in the lead over the first half’s remaining 11 minutes. Russia held on to a slender lead for most of the second half, though without leading by more than a goal or two. Greece conjured up magic for a decisive six-minute period, beginning in the 52nd, to convert a 21-19 deficit into a commanding 27-22 lead. Six consecutive goals, as well as some splendid goalkeeping by Dimitris Kafatos, gave Greece a five-goal lead with just three minutes remaining. Russia, dazzled and unable to respond, eventually went down 29-24. «We played very good handball with strength and passion, as well as fighting spirit. The game was determined in the last 10 minutes, when we showed that we had physical and psychological power to spare,» the squad’s Swedish coach, Ulf Schefert, noted. «I hope we play just as well against the Czech Republic. We didn’t want to ruin the good picture created by our first-round performances,» added Schefert, hired ahead of the Athens Olympics to prepare the national team for the occasion. Greece ended the Games in sixth place. Twelve of the tournament’s 24 starters have been equally divided into two groups for round two. The top two sides from both groups advance to Saturday’s semifinals. The final is scheduled for Sunday.