AFP - Defending men's handball champions France were pushed all the way in a gripping Olympic final on Sunday but retained their crown, edging a tight contest to beat unfancied Sweden 22-21.
After their victory in Beijing in 2008, the powerful French side went on to become the first men's team in history to hold the Olympic, world and European titles at the same time.
But Claude Onesta's side also had something to prove after a disappointing campaign at January's European championships in Serbia, where they failed to reach the semi-finals.
In a cagey opening at the Basketball Arena, the score was 3-3 in the 11th minute, with goalkeeper Johan Sjostrand impressing in the Swedish goal and neither side able to impose themselves on the contest.
The French team led 10-8 at the break but the tenacious Swedes pulled one back seconds after the restart.
Midway through the second half France still led by the narrowest of margins but with the noisy crowd belting out La Marseillaise, the Scandanavians crucially failed to get back on level terms, with French goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer making some vital saves.
Amid mounting tension, a penalty for Sweden brought the scores back to 21-20 as the seconds ticked away but a strike by Luc Abalo restored a two-goal margin and that ultimately proved enough.
Sweden, who were not expected to advance much further than the quarter-finals, having been a team in transition, also won silver in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
Earlier, Croatia came out on top in the bronze medal match, overcoming Hungary 33-26.