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Russia completes unbeaten run for handball gold

The Associated Press

Russia completes unbeaten run for handball gold

Russia defeated France 22-19 in an unnerving final to claim the gold in women's handball. 

Russia didn't make any game look easy during this fortnight. Taking a quick glance, one would say that this young squad looks far from perfect.

But that couldn't be further from the truth. After two weeks and eight nail-biting games, Russia is perfect. And nothing is as lasting of a symbol of this perfection as the gold medal that they will wear around their necks. 

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Saturday was a typical day in Russian handball: win the hard way. They really outdid themselves this time. 

France tried to match the Russians in pace from the onset of the match, but France's abandoning of its typical game could have gotten them into trouble early with some poor shots. 

Amandine Leynaud bailed them out, though, saving five shots in the first six minutes of play. 
The strategy was abandoned in the eighth minute of play when France quickly fell to a 1-3 disadvantage from Polina Kuznetsova's strike from the left wing. 
Both teams looked unsettled for much of the first half and it reflected in the scoring. France missed eight of its first 12 attempts on target. This kind of inaccuracy propelled Russia to a four-goal lead, who continued to use the pace to strike. 

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Alexandra Lacrabere and Vladlena Bobrovnikova both struggled to impose their will during most of the first half. Lacrabere's only goals came in on penalty shots, while Bobrovnikova was scoreless. 

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Russia's fluid play quickly dissipated and they fell victim to turning the ball over, allowing France to hang on despite their own woes from shooting - particularly from the wing. 
The incredible momentum that Russia is able to trigger was switched on early in the second half, forcing the pace on France. Kuznetsova's presence on the wing provided even further trouble and pushed her team to four goals clear of France
Lacrabere still had issues herself in scoring, as Russia refused to let the right back out of sight. 
With Lacrabere seemingly becoming a nonfactor in scoring, Allison Pineau and Siraba Dembele would have to carry the burden. Beatrice Edwige also worked to draw the penalty shot from the top of the perimeter. 
France's offensive struggles were leveld off a bit by a tight defense, forcing Russia to slow down a bit on the fast break because of excellent positioning around the six-meter crease. France's concerns only grew minutes later as Lacrabere received an injury to her shoulder after a collision with Daria Dmitrieva. The French star was clutching her left shooting arm and had to be taken off the court. 
Dembele brought her team back to within one goal midway through the second half following a fast break. All of a sudden it was the French who started pushing up the pace, and it was the Russians who struggled matching it. 
Lacrebere got back onto the court in the 17th minute following her injury scare, much to the relief of her team.
Laura Glauser impressed for France in goal herself, making some key saves to keep her team afloat. 
But they still struggled containing Russia from the wing, with Kuznetsova, Marina Sudakova and Anna Vyakhireva all trying to bust open the door. 
Throughout the whole competition, the one intangible that Russia possessed - which all other teams lacked - is that knack to find the switch to pull away from their opponents. Seven times they accomplished in doing so heading into today. 
And the eighth time happened in the final eight minutes of play. Five minutes remaining and Russia found themselves up by four - and France faced a titanic undertaking, to somehow turn that switch off. 
It began to look that way with a rifle shot by Pineau from the nine meter to bring France within two in the final 120 seconds of play. 
After a pressure-filled timeout, both teams looked to find their composure and that extra step to get them over that finish line. Olga Akopian delivered a huge goal to give Russia a three-goal lead in the final 60 seconds, a major blow to France. 
And then it was settled. Eight games perfect. They didn't always make it look pretty, but the Russians will be wearing gold. 

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