Handball-Croatia, France clinch European championship main-round berths
ZAGREB, Jan 14 (Reuters) - European handball championship hosts Croatia and world title holders France advanced to the 16-nation tournament's second group stage with a match to spare after emphatic wins on Sunday.
Scandinavian rivals Sweden and Norway also won to boost their hopes of reaching the main round on a day of spectacular action in the preliminary pools.
With their confidence high after a 32-22 win over Serbia, the Croatians brushed aside Iceland 29-22 thanks to a superb second-half performance in the cauldron of Split's Spaladium Arena.
With the scores tied at 14-14 early in the second half, the Croatians pulled away after engineering a 5-0 run as playmaker Luka Cindric pulled the strings in attack and netted a game-high seven goals.
Former world and Olympic champions Croatia, seeking their first European title, were also helped by a string of good saves by reserve goalkeeper Ivan Stevanovic.
France breezed to a 33-26 victory over Austria having maintained cruise control throughout the contest in the coastal resort of Porec, as their left back Timothey N'Guessan stood out with seven goals.
Sweden bounced back from an opening defeat by Iceland with a solid 30-25 win over lacklustre Serbia, who now have only a slim chance of avoiding an early exit.
The Swedes kept finding gaps in Serbia's porous defence and with goalkeeper Mikael Appelgren shining at the other end, they also produced 11 different scorers.
Norway showed no nerves after an unlucky 32-31 opening loss to the French and overcame a stiff challenge from plucky Belarus, who suffered their second successive setback.
A balanced attacking workload from the Norwegians saw Sander Sagosen, Magnus Gullerud and Kristian Bjornsen rifle in six goals each in a fast-paced match.
Holders Germany take on Slovenia in Monday's standout fixture.
(Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic in Belgrade,; Editing by Ed Osmond)