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Croatia, Germany both win at Beijing Olympic men's handball
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Defending champion Croatia and reigning world titlist Germany both grabbed opening wins in the men's handball tournament at the Beijing Olympic Games on Sunday.

Germany mounted a strong comeback to edge out South Korea, silver medalist at the 1988 Seoul Games, 27-23 after trailing by three points at half time.

"It is important that we started the tournament with a victory. We struggled in the first half. We made a lot of mistakes, lost many balls, and even missed several fast breaks," said German pivot Christian Schwarzer.

In the first half the South Korean side controlled the rhythm of the match, tearing down Germany's defending line with lightning-like fast breaks.

"We knew it would be hard to play with South Korea. They are different from European teams and they are just too fast. But in the second half they became tired because of their playing style," Schwarzer added.

In an earlier game, Croatia, gold medalist at Athens Games, narrowly defeated Spain 31-29.

Star playmaker Ivano Balic scored the opening goal for Croatia. But he injured his right leg at the end of the first half. Laming out of the pitch for first aid, the World Player of the Year in 2003 and 2006 had his injured leg wrapped up with bandage and never returned to play.

"In the first half we did quite well in attack. However, after Balic got injured, we only found a few solutions to score," said Lino Cervar,coach of Croatia in a post-match conference.

Trailing 11-16 at the break, bull-like Spain launched a 5-0 run in the second half, snatching the lead for the first time with five minutes to go. However, Croatia scored five goals in the final five minutes to secure their opening win at the Beijing Games.

Compared with Croatia and Germany, European powerhouse France earned their victory more easily. They constantly intercept Brazil's pass and scored from fast breaks, leading 19-11 at the interval.

In the second half, France sent several bench players into the court, but Brazil still found no chance to close the gap. France finally claimed their triumph 34-26.

China lost 19-33 to Poland, runner-up of the 2007 World Championship, in their Olympic debut. Being a minnow in the handball world, China only got their Olympic ticket as the host.

"I feel very excited and lucky at the moment. We finally have our Olympic dream come true," said the 18-year-old Wang Xiaolong, who scored China's landmark-like first goal in Olympic arena.

Snorri Gudjonsson converted nine shots into nine goals, leading Iceland to stun Athens Olympic bronze medalist Russia 33-31. Newly-crowned 2008 European champion Denmark tied 23-23 with African Champion Egypt.

(Xinhua News Agency August 11, 2008)

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