France v Denmark and Norway v Spain in the all-European semi-finals of the XX Women’s World Championship
Spain booked their spot in the last four on Wednesday (14 December) by beating hosts Brazil 27:26 in a thriller of the highest level. For Spain, it is their second straight qualification for a women’s World Championship semi-final since 2009, when they finished fourth.
For the fourth time in history France has reached the semi-final of a Women’s World Championship with their defence being the key to the elimination of defending champions Russia in the rematch of the 2009 World Championship Final.
For the first time in six years the Danish women have reached a semi-final of a Women’s World Championship.
The northern Europeans ended Angola’s dream of reaching their first ever World Championship semi-final after a close and tough match – and will now face France. The last time both semi-finalists met at a World Championship was in 2009, when Denmark beat France 24:16 in the Preliminary Round.
2007, 2009, 2011 – for the third straight (and in total ninth) time, Norway has reached a semi-final of the women’s World Championship. The Olympic and European champions were the third European nation to qualify for the semi-finals in Sao Paulo after France and Denmark. The ‘Northern lights’ beat Croatia thanks to their sharp and powerful counter attacks and will now face Spain.
Women’s World Championship 2011 – Quarter-Final Review
Russia – France 23:25 (12:13)
The match was a classic battle of two of the best defences in the world, with France flexible and closing any gaps that appeared, most notably through goalkeeper Amendine Leynaud who kept the Russians at bay.
With this defence France, runners-up of the 2009 World Championship, took the lead after the scores were level at 5:5 for the first time, and clung on to that advantage through to the final whistle.
Keeping their defensive wall solid in the second half, the French players were able to tame the Russians bears. The world champion did not find anywhere to break through this defence – and again the French team showed their great physical abilities.
At 20:16 the gap was four goals for the first time. Russia tried everything, but even in the final stage of the match they did not find the means to score and cut the deficit.
French coach Olivier Krumbholz was highly satisfied: "We showed great defence with a great goalkeeper, I have to congratulate my players for this great victory in this important match. Concerning this importance I can imagine, how Jewgeny Trefilow is feeling now. In the second half we made minimal mistakes and played 100 per cent, and with patience in attack."
Angola – Denmark 23:28 (11:15)
The sensational Danish handball series in 2011 continues!
After the men finished as silver medallists at the World Championship in Sweden and all four youth and junior teams were awarded with medals at World and European Championships this summer, now the women play for Gold, Silver or Bronze.
Despite his awareness before this game, coach Jan Pytlick and his players could celebrate a tough, but well-deserved quarter-final victory. For Denmark the encounter against France will be the seventh time the teams have met in the semi-final of Women’s World Championships.
On the other hand the great dream of the whole of African handball - and especially the Angolans - has come to a bitter end. But they still have a chance to qualify directly for the 2012 London Olympic Games by winning the African Championship in Rabat, Morocco, in January.
Denmark started furiously and left the huge number of Angolan spectators silenced. After just 18 minutes, the three time Olympic champions had increased the gap to 11:6 thanks to counter attacks and goalkeeper Christina Pedersen.
After the break the Danes constantly kept the margin to four or five goals until minute 42, when Angola scored three unanswered goals to make it 19:20, having two players more on the field. But also in this crunch time the Danes kept calm, found their rhythm again – and Pedersen was a tower of strength, by saving important shots.
The Angolan resistance was finally broken four minutes before the end, when Trine Troelsen hammered the ball into the net for the decisive 27:22.
"We were well prepared for this encounter – we wanted to take revenge for our defeat against Angola in 2009. We are glad that we have two days to prepare for the semi-final against France.
"For the last ten years they have one of the best defences in the world, but this year they also have the best attack I have seen in the last 15 years. I knew that they would beat Russia, and now we are looking forward. We have played some great matches against France in previous years, winning more games than we lost," Danish assistant coach Kim Jensen said.
Croatia – Norway 25:30 (12:16)
Norway again is heading for a medal: After winning World Championship silver in 2007 and bronze in 2009, they will now go for another podium place after four straight EHF EURO tiles since 2004.
The current Olympics champions, who are already qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games in London, did not have any problems with the Croats. A key factor was pivot Heidi Löke, scoring eight goals, mostly by counter attacks.
After 38 minutes the Balkan team scored four consecutive goals to make it 16:18. But Norway fought back immediately, scoring three fast breaks and one penalty to return to the previous six-goal margin.
And two more fast break goals by world class Heidi Löke and Kari Mette Johanssen then made it 24:16 after 44 minutes, before extending their lead to ten goals at 27-17.
Norwegian coach Thorir Hergeirsson said: "My team did a good job in defence and in counter attacks. Now we are starting our preparations to reach the final."
Spain – Brazil 27:26 (19:17)
The brave hosts could do nothing to stop their fairy-tale ending, as the Spanish players danced on the field for minutes following their victory.
The first eleven minutes were a roller coaster: Spain led 6:1 thanks to great Carmen Martin to leave the Brazilian team and more than 6500 spectators shocked, but then the hosts woke up – and then it took only five minutes to equalize at 7:7.
Then lead changed hands several times with great defences and goalkeepers on both sides. Pushed by their spectators Brazil, equalised at 20:20 through Nascimento after some brilliant saves of Arenhart.
When Daniela Piedade hit the back of the net on 37 minutes to give the Brazilians the lead for the first time after the break (21:20), the spectators went wild. The game was on the edge – both sides fighting for every inch, high emotions on the field, the benches and the stands, tough defences, suspensions and no team able to distance the other by more than one goal until minute 52, when Marta Mangue scored the 25:23 for Spain.
With the score at 26-26 in the last minute, Brazil has the ball but one player less on the field. However they lost the ball, Spain counter-attacked 15 seconds before the end – and Elisabeth Pinedo scoring for the 27:26. With three seconds to play, five Spaniards faced four Brazilians. The last free-throw went to the hosts – but Pinheiro’s effort was blocked. The clock was run down, Brazilian had one final free-throw, but the Spanish wall blocked the ball.
Spain’s Head Coach Jorge Duenas said afterwards: "Two days ago we beat Montenegro and were among the top 8 and now I am even happier, because we are on top. In the first half our attack was good, but our defence was weak. Brazil improved in defence after the break and the final moments were really exciting."
Hypo Brazilian player Alexandra Nascimento said: "If you have only one minute to play you must be very lucky to score. But we saw that we cannot count on this luck in all matches."
Semi-final schedule, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Friday 16 December 2011
Semi-final 1: France v Denmark, 17:15 hrs (local time)
Semi-final 2: Norway v Spain, 20:00 hrs
The line-up of the first placement matches 5 – 8 will be Russia v Angola (16 December, 11:45) and Croatia v Brazil (16 December, 14:30), the winners of those games play for 5/6 rank, the losers for 7 and 8.
All those nations are already qualified for the Olympic Qualification Tournaments, played 25 – 27 May 2012. If Norway will not become World Champion, the fifth ranked team is even host of tournament number three.
TEXT: Björn Pazen