Montpellier (AFP)

Easy winners of a weak Tunisia team 40 to 29 on Saturday night in Montpellier, the French handball players got considerably closer to the Tokyo Olympics (July 23-August 8), a qualification that will have to be validated against Portugal on Sunday evening.

After the inaugural success built in the second half against Croatia (30-26) on Friday, Guillaume Gille's players did not tremble to ensure a second success in as many matches in the Hérault, and put a foot and part of the second in the boarding gate for Japan this summer.

To see Tokyo, France can afford Sunday night, to lose six goals (or seven on condition of registering at least 22) against Portugal, which has given it so much trouble in recent years (defeat in particular at Euro-2020 which precipitated the fiasco of the Blues, eliminated in the first round).

The evening could have been totally perfect if two and a half hours earlier, Portugal had not cracked against Croatia: Paulo Pereira's players led by six goals in the second half (16-10, 35th), before seeing Croatia, vice-champion of Europe 2020, come back and win on the wire (25-24).

A Portuguese victory would have had the consequence of qualifying France and Portugal even before Sunday's game, which will ultimately have a stake.

Because if the French can afford a defeat, Portugal will have to win to play the Games for the first time in its history, which would be the culmination of their progress in recent years (6th in Euro-2020 and 10th of the Mondial-2021).

- Play time for all -

On Saturday, coach Guillaume Gille returned the same seven players lined up at the start of the match against Croatia, with Parisian Nedim Remili as center-half to compensate for the absence of team star Nikola Karabatic, who is recovering of a rupture of the anterior cruciate ligament of the right knee caused in mid-October.

After widening a first gap (11-6, 14th) thanks to a defense once again well in place around the duo Luka Karabatic and Ludovic Fabregas, and a performing back base, Michaël Guigou's teammates were able to manage their meeting in the optics of the Sunday night game.

Guillaume Gille took the opportunity to give playing time to all 16 players lined up on the scoresheet, and avoid the slightest risk of injury.

As against Croatia, he brought in Melvyn Richardson, Valentin Porte, Hugo Descat, and Kentin Mahé in the second half, while Yann Genty came to replace Vincent Gérard, author of a good first period (11 saves).

This TQO comes six weeks after the beautiful 4th place of the French at the Mondial-2021, and thirteen months after Euro-2020.

Since their emergence on the international scene on the occasion of the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 (bronze medal), French handball players have competed in each edition of the Olympics and played the last three finals (gold in Beijing-2008 and London-2012, silver in Rio-2016).

© 2021 AFP