Seeking a semifinals berth at the Men’s World Championship in Tunisia, the national handball side stumbled on the home stretch after losing 31-29 to the Czech Republic in a final-round qualifier last night. Greece went into the Group 1 game as the front runner, on equal points with Tunisia and France, but with a better overall record. Also last night, Tunisia guaranteed its place in the semifinals with a 35-24 win over Russia. France and Slovenia, both semifinal contenders and looking for wins, were due to clash later last night. A draw would have sent France through. The top two sides from two groups of six advance to tomorrow’s semifinals. Unable to sustain the momentum generated by its 29-24 win over Russia, the bronze medalist at the Athens Olympics, in its previous encounter, Greece opened in subdued fashion against the last-placed Czechs. Even so, Greece managed to gain a 5-4 lead after 10 minutes, but that was quickly overturned. A minute later the Czechs led 6-5. Greece’s scoring machine Alexandros Alvanos gradually began rolling, but his side’s defense was far less effective than on previous days. At the other end, solid defensive play by the Czechs prompted numerous errors in Greece’s attack. Neither side was able to break away for the first half’s remainder, which ended with the opponents deadlocked at 16-16. The Czechs opened strongly in the second half to build an early three-goal lead. It was increased to four goals 10 minutes into the 30-minute half. But Greece, sensing danger, staged a comeback to level at 23-23 midway through the second half. Late in the game, at 29-29, Greece’s Giorgos Halkidis and Spyros Balomenos both missed major scoring opportunities, with just the keeper to beat. To the Greek team’s disappointment, the Czechs capitalized on their late chances to finish off the game with a 31-29 score. Greece will now play a placement match on Saturday for its final standing in the tournament.