Norway World Champions 2011!
Twelve years after their first World Champion title, Norway has written a new chapter of handball history by beating a battling French team 32:24 in Sao Paulo.
Their victory makes them only the second team ever (after Denmark 1996/97) to be World Champion, European Champion and Olympics Champion at the same time. But for France it was the second consecutive defeat in a World Championship final after 2009, when they had lost against Russia.
Norway’s victory adds another prestigious title to their already impressive list of accolades – twice World Champion (1999, 2011), once Olympic Champion (2008) and five times European Champion (1998, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010).
Final: France – Norway 24:32 (13:19)
It was only when the Gold medals were handed over by IHF President Dr Hassan Moustafa and Manoel Luiz Oliveira (President of the Brazilian Handball Federation) that the Norwegians started to realise what they had reached.
On top of the podium, they continued their massive celebrations which had started with the final buzzer on the field – World Champions 2011!
The atmosphere created by an 8,000-strong crowd – which included a big Norwegian contingent as well as more than 200 frenetic French supporters - was fantastic as they sung and cheered as one behind their teams. And the final was – for a long time, as expected - a clash of two big defensive teams from the first minute.
France had the better start, but they were beaten by their own weapons: The Norwegian defence was extremely movable, and they blocked the French shooters and did not give an inch to their opponent, whilst goalkeeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen stood like a rock.
And when the "Norge express" had started after the score had stood at 6:6, it was unstoppable: First Linn Sulland hit the back of the net from nine or seven metres, then Kristine Lunde Borgersen hammered the ball into the French net. And on the pivot position Heidi Löke was fighting as if it was for her life. So Norway increased the gap to four goals at 13:9 for the first time and to five at 16:11 after 27 minutes.
While France had to fight hard to score, Norway went through their defence like a knife through butter with a big scoring efficiency. And when Löke – the only member of the All Star Team present in the final – made it 19:12 after 30 minutes, France (still missing their injured top stars Pineau and Signate) knew that they need a miracle in the second half if they were to raise the winner’s trophy.
French hopes of mounting a comeback were dashed as they continued to make mistakes which Norway punished with some accurate pinhole attacks.
The runners-up of the 2009 World Championship lacked ideas in attack as well as power in defence, and when Kari Mete Johansen scored after 40 minutes it took the score to 24:17.
The red dressed Norwegian spectators started singing their traditional "Heja Norge" song – but France were not prepared to give in. They profited from some missed Norwegian shots and hit back to 21:26 with ten minutes left on the clock.
But this was the final wake up call for the Northern Europeans, who tightened up and denied their rivals a look-in.
Statements after the match:
Olivier Krumbholz, coach of France, said: "This is a big disappointment, as we didn’t succeed in defence as we wanted to, especially against Lunde-Borgersen. We lacked our injured players Pineau and Signate, who are both highly influential for our defence.
"I hope they come back soon, but unfortunately Pineau will not be able to play at the Olympic Qualification Tournament. So her injury is much more disappointing than the final defeat. Norway was not afraid of us, in contrast: they were much stronger."
Thorir Hergeirsson, Norwegian coach, said: "We were well prepared for the final. We saw it as the final step of a great development of our team in this tournament. We had to take many challenges in 2011, as many players were not well enough to play at the World Championship.
"We started to integrate young players and played many friendly matches – including four defeats against France before Brazil. So the key to success were the development and the cooperation with experienced players like Kristine Lunde-Borgersen, who had given birth in February.
"But thanks to a special training program she was ready for Brazil, which was really important as our key players Hammerseng and Larssen had to be replaced. We knew before the final that, if we give four to five per cent more than in the semi, we have a chance to win. And the most important fact in the end was: The girls wanted to win, and if they want to win, you will win.
"It is great to have the three major titles now, as we always play to win. But right after Christmas we will start preparing for the Olympics, as all other teams improve, and we do not want to be overtaken. It is a great honour for us that we received a text message from the Norwegian Prime Minister after the victory, aside we hope for a huge Christmas present from the Swedish team, which is qualified for the Olympics now."
French player Angelique Spincer said: "We feel very sad, as we wanted to bring the gold medal to France. We were weak in defence in the first half and missed too many chances in attack after the break. Now I hope that we can improve at the Olympic Qualification Tournament to secure our place in London."
Norwegian player Kari Grimsbö added: "We have shown that we have a good team. But maybe if even better players join our squad at the Olympics we get better and better – but all other teams will be working hard to improve, too."
Another European team has also written history in Sao Paulo, with Spain winning their first ever medal at a World Championship by beating Denmark 24:18 (9:9) in the bronze final.
Their first ever medal at a major tournament was Silver at the EHF EURO 2008 in Macedonia. And the Spaniards knew whom to thank when the final whistle was blown: They jumped upon goalkeeper Silvia Navarro, as she had almost single-handedly secured the bronze medal. After ranking fourth at the EHF EURO 2010, Denmark again missed a medal by the narrowest of margins.
The Danes were the better team in the first 30 minutes, but failed too often in attack against the outstanding Navarro. And she turned the game in the second half, as Spain then started to take the profit of her saves.
By fast breaks – usually the strength of the Danes – they equalised at 12:12 and then went away to 15:12. Even two time-outs from Danish coach Jan Pytlick did not solve their problems: In attack they caused too many mistakes and the defence lacked stability.
"This is a happy day for Spanish women’s handball, as we took our first ever World Championship medal. We knew before that we could not lose, this was our strength. I had total belief in this team and I am proud of them all. Now we want to reach the Olympic Games," coach Jorge Duenas said.
Meanwhile, Danish assistant coach Kim Jensen said: "We’re really sad as we had hoped before that we are able to beat Spain. But the Spanish goalkeeper Silvia Navarro was the key to our defeat, and we missed too many chances. Despite the defeat our new team played a fantastic tournament, as we missed eight players from our EURO 2010 squad. We are proud of our team."
Before the bronze medal match, four times World champions Russia were left shell-shocked when they lost the 5/6 Placement Match 20:36 against host Brazil.
It was Russia’s biggest ever defeat in their World Championship history and meant they finished sixth, as Brazil took their best ever result at a World Championship.
"I have to take the responsibility for this defeat," coach Jewgeny Trefilow. His team had lost the quarter-final against France and knew early on they were not going to win a medal.
In contrast, another team from Europe won the 7/8 Placement Match: But it took real effort for the Croatians to overcome the African champions from Angola 32:29 (14:12).
Coach Vladimir Canjuga said: "We are satisfied with the seventh rank, but it was possible to finish even better. It was a tough tournament, but I think we have made some steps forward since the European Championship in 2010. We are qualified for the Olympic Qualification – and I hope we make the final step towards London."
The All Star Team of the World Championship 2011:
Goalkeeper: Chana Masson (Brazil), Left wing: Emilia Turei (Russia), Left back: Andrea Penezic (Croatia), Centre back: Alison Pineau (France), Right back: Line Jörgensen (Denmark), Right wing: Carmen Martin (Spain), Pivot: Heidi Löke (Norway)
Final ranking of the XX Women’s World Championship in Brazil:
16. Ivory Coast
Photos Courtesy of IHF
TEXT: Björn Pazen