Ice-cold Norwegians face France in World Championship Final
France beat Denmark 28:23 in the first semi-final, while Norway left Spain no chance in the other match.
The two finalists also met in the World Championship final 12 years ago, when Norway ran out 25-24 winners after a thrilling extra-time clash.
Meanwhile, Spain will face Denmark in the bronze final on Sunday.
For the fourth time in history (after 1999, 2003 and 2009) France has reached the final of a Women’s World Championship. But they lost playmaker Alison Pineau with a ruptured cruciate ligament.
Meanwhile, Norway will play in the final for the fifth time. In 1997, 2001 and 2007 they won the silver medal, and in 1999 on home ground they celebrated their one and only World Championship title after a thrilling clash with their upcoming opponent France.
France – Denmark 28:23 (14:12)
As expected, this clash of top European and World nations was a close battle in the first half. Both teams fought hard in defence, and both had strong goalkeepers in Christine Pedersen (Denmark) and Amandine Leynaud (France).
Thanks to the back court players Line Jörgensen (five goals before the break) and Trine Troelsen Denmark started better and led 7:4 with France left reeling by the second minute injury to former world handball player Alison Pineau had to be carried from the field with a severe knee injury.
But after a time-out by coach Olivier Krumbholz France woke up, and opened up a 16:12 lead thanks to Alexandra Lacrabere. But like in the quarter-final against Russia, the French defence was the key to their success at this stage in the match. And a double strike from Marie Paule Gnabouyou helped France extend the gap to six goals, leading 20:14 in the 40th minute.
But like in the placement match before, it was still all to play for midway through the second half. Denmark reduced the margin to 20:18, followed by a time-out of the French coach Krumbholz. His team had lost its rhythm, and Denmark were punishing France once again and, with their confidence boosted, the Danes also improved in defence.
With three minutes left on the scoreboard and after another Danish time-out, it was 24:22 to France as Amelie Goudjo finding the net, and Denmark became desperate in attack, knowing time was running out.
The French fans started their "Allez les Bleus" celebrations on reaching the final, while a tenth goal for Lacrabere sealed their 26:22 win.
Kim Jensen, assistant coach of Denmark: "France played a really good match. We knew that it would be hard to counter, as it was a David v Goliath match. For us to win we would have to play at our best. But France were too good for us - they are currently the best team in the world.
Oliver Krumbholz, French coach: "Like in every match the defence was the key to win. But while we’re happy to win we’re sad to lose our key player Alison Pineau for the final, and she might also miss the Olympics too.
"Her injury will make it really difficult for us in the final. We will not start as favourites, no matter what the opponent will be. But my team – which is now missing two top players in Pineau and Mariama Signate - showed again a great attitude and passion and we will have to cope with Pineau’s injury with more rotations."
Norway – Spain 30:22 (16:9)
Two years ago they had left the field in Nanjing with heads held low after their 20:28 semi-final defeat against Russia. But now Norway and their many fans are celebrating in Sao Paulo having reached the final of the XX Women’s World Championship.
Their win was clear and well deserved, with sharp counter attacks, while pivot Heidi Löke and goalkeeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen were in great form and played a big part in their success against Spain.
Norway started like an express train. Thanks to four counter-attack goals they early took a 6:3 lead – and even a Spanish time-out could not stop them. The Iberians’ attacking was weak, while Norwegian goalkeeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen made several strong saves to help the Olympic and European champion extended the gap to 10:4 after 17 minutes.
Five minutes later Spain hit back, scoring five straight goals to close to 10:9. However, thanks to outstanding pivot Heidi Löke and the weakness of Spanish attacks, the Northern Europeans scored six straight goals to the clear half-time lead of 16:9.
With Lunde Haraldsen continuing to deny Spain, the fate of the match already looked decided midway through the second half, with Norway 23-15 ahead in the 45th minute and in full control.
Top scorers in this one-sided semi were Heidi Löke (five goals for Norway) and Macarena Aguilar (five goals for Spain).
Jorge Duenas, Spanish coach: "We failed at the start but in the second half we tried to react. But whilst my players were very tired, the Norwegians were really good and they were clearly better."
Thorir Hergeirsson, Norway’s coach: "As Spain had played well before this match, we had great respect for them. But we were well prepared and absolutely focused on beating them. We managed to do what we wanted to do, especially with our counter attacks. A special thanks must go to our goalkeeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen.
"Despite France losing top players Mariama Signate and Alison Pineau they are still the favourites for the final in my opinion as they still have many top players. As both teams focus on defence, maybe the match will end 0:0 – and then the extra time will have to decide!
Placement Round 5-8:
Russia – Angola 41:31 (17:18)
Croatia –Brazil 31:32 (15:14)
The match schedule for the final day:
Sunday 18 December:
9:00: Placement match 5/6: Russia vs. Brazil
11:45: Placement match 7/8: Angola vs. Croatia
14:30: Bronze final: Denmark vs. Spain
17:15: Final: France vs. Norway
(all times are local times)
Photos Courtesy of IHF
TEXT: Björn Pazen