The German national team beat Poland in the handball World Cup final in front of a home crowd in Cologne on Sunday, putting an end to the 17-day tournament that turned a marginal sport to a national obsession.
Germany lifted the World Cup trophy for the third time on Sunday
Heiner Brand's team made the "winter fairy tale" come true Sunday night, beating Poland 29-24 to win the handball World Cup title in front of home crowd in Cologne.
"What we've experience here is beyond understanding, but I'm proud of it," said Brand, who can add a goal medal as coach to the one he won as a player in 1978. "It was simply extraordinary and sensational. Other than a few super optimists, no one expected this result."
Polish fans were vastly outnumbered in the Cologne Arena
Henning Fritz and his later replacement Johannes Bitter were sensational in goal and Torsten Jansen led the way with eight goals to send the 19,000-strong Cologne crowd and effectively the whole country into a frenzy.
Fritz, who suffered a calf injury in the 35th minute, said he also couldn't believe what he and his teammates achieved.
"The last 20 minutes seemed like a year," he said. "It was absolutely horrible, but not I can't tell you how happy I am."
Germany's previous handball titles were at the inaugural event 1938 and in 1978. Poland were playing their first major final, but weren't able to repeat their performance of being the only team to beat Germany in the tournament's opening rounds.
Players said the atmosphere was like nothing they'd experienced
The hosts turned a 3-2 deficit after six minutes into an 8-3 lead in the 11th with six unanswered goals as Fritz made super-saves against Polish back-court sharp-shooters Karol Bielecki and Grzegorz Tkaczyk and his teammates were deadly accurate up front.
Germany led 17-13 at the half but then allowed Poland back into the game, the Poles outscoring the Germans 7-1 as they fought from 21-14 down to 22-21.
But two strikes from Pascal Hens for 24-21 and a double from Jansen for 26-22 settled the affair against the finally tiring Poles.
Germany maintained the advantage despite being pressed by the Poles
"Three weeks ago I didn't think it was possible to win this title with all the problems we were having," said Brand. "It will take a while to sink in just what we have achieved."
The win means the German team is automatically qualified for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Denmark takes third from France
Earlier Sunday, Denmark defeated France 34-27 to take third place, their second best showing ever at the event, the top result being runner-up in 1967. Denmark's Lars Christiansen had a match-leading nine goals, Michael Giugiu had six for France.
Pre-tournament favorites Croatia -- the 2003 world and 2004 Olympic champions -- and defending champions Spain had to settle for fifth and seventh, respectively, losing quarter-finals to France and Germany, respectively.