Norway and Montenegro compete in the all-European women’s duel for Olympic gold medal
Defending champions face debutants in the final
Norway and Montenegro have made their way to the gold medal match in the women's handball competition.
Defending champions Norway had no problems beating Korea in the first semi-final 31-25 (18-15), and debutants Montenegro surprised Spain winning 27-26 (13-13) in the second semi on Thursday in the Basketball Arena – the biggest success ever for Montenegro in handball. The final will be played on Saturday, following the bronze medal match between Korea and Spain.
The gold medal match is something of a re-match of the EHF Champions League semi-final between Buducnost Podgorica and Larvik HK, clearly won by the team from Montenegro.
Norway – Korea 31-25 (18-15)
For the fourth time in their handball history, Norway's women's handball team have reached an Olympic final.
The defending Olympic, world and EHF EURO champions had a much easier task than expected to beat Korea 31-25 (18-15).
Norway showed large improvements from their preliminary round performances and the same great team spirit that had helped clinch them the semi-final berth during their quarter-final win over Brazil before.
Korea were hit hard by another injury very early, Sim Haein (KOR) left the court after ten minutes following an injury to her hand. The Asian champions missed too many chances against the strong Norway goalkeeper Katrine Lunde-Haraldsen (NOR) and twin sister Kristine Lunde-Borgersen (NOR) scored the decisive goals to give Norway a three-goal lead at the break.
The physical advantages and the depth of cover on the bench then decided the game very early for the defending Olympic champions as Korea lacked the power to score and to withstand Norway's counter-attacks.
For the first time in the game the margin between the teams was five goals, at 24-19 in the 45th minute. But just a minute later the margin had increased to six and Norway maintained their superiority to seal a 31-25 win.
After five under par performances from the current women's world handball player of the year, Heidi Loke (NOR) was another key to success as she stood strong in defence and was the top scorer in the match with eight goals.
Statements after the match:
Coach Thorir Hergeirsson (NOR): "We knew it would be a very fast and difficult game. We specifically wanted to pay some extra attention to our defence. The girls showed they want to play and win."
Player Heidi Loke (NOR): "It was an amazing game. Now our attack is working well. It was fun to play today. We are good at using all the girls. When the back players manage to score, it creates room for us on the line. After the last match against Korea, we knew what we were facing today."
Coach Kang Jae Won (KOR): "We did not have any chance against Norway, no chance. All the injuries in our team were the reason for this defeat. Unfortunately we were defeated by Norway but this defeat has reasonable explanation. Our player lack international experience much needed at this level. This was a crucial factor that led to our defeat.”
Spain – Montenegro 26-27 (13-13)
Olympic Games debutants Montenegro have made history and gone all the way to the final of the London 2012 women's competition by beating Spain 27-26 (13-13).
The Montenegro success rested mainly on two sets of shoulders; those of their top shooters Bojana Popovic (MNE) and Katarina Bulatovic (MNE). This duo scored 15 of 27 Montenegro goals and the first half of the match was like a private duel between those top attackers against Spanish goalkeeper Silvia Navarro (ESP). Her saves were the key for the equal half-time result (13-13), as otherwise Montenegro could have been in a healthy lead.
Despite their low shooting percentage, Popovic had already hit the net four times for her side, while on the other hand Nely Alberto (ESP) was the best Spanish scorer with five goals, but added only one after the break.
Both teams started the second half nervously and hectic, missing many chances and causing technical mistakes, unusual for an Olympic semi-final, but it was only Montenegro who were able to return to their usual level in the middle of the second half.
Thanks to the individual class of Popovic and Bulatovic the game was decided and both were not only the decisive factors in this semi-final, but now lead the overall top scorers ranking in the women’s handball competition. Popovic added six goals and is now sitting on 41 goals overall, while Bulatovic hit the net nine times against Spain and now has 43 goals to her name.
With her eighth goal Bulatovic extended the gap to four goals for the first time at 23-19 and then Milena Knezevic kept the gap at four goals to make it 27-23, but despite a late three-goal flurry from Spain, the biggest success ever for Montenegro handball was sealed on the buzzer as the scoreboard read 27-26 to Montenegro.
Statements after the match:
Coach Dragan Adzic (MNE): "The beginning of the match was difficult with a bit of nervousness involved. In the end we showed our character and quality by winning this extremely difficult semi-final. The key moment was definitely in the middle of the second half that the tables were turned and we have become sure we will win the match Norway goes into the final as a clear favourite. They are the champions of everything and anything. However we know how to deal with the Norwegians as Buducnost (MNE) beat their top team in the semi-finals of the EHF Champions League. And they beat them twice, so definitely we know a thing or two about the opposition."
Player Bojana Popovic (MNE): "We fought until the end. So did Spain but we deserve to play in the final. I can’t believe we are in the final but I will start to believe it soon. This is a big day for Montenegro. So many things have happened in the last 10 days. I feel empty now, I have used so much energy."
Coach Jorge Duenas (ESP): "We had a lot of hope going into the game but there were critical moments in the second half where we lost the ball and that is what held us back. We have no regrets and must now focus on the future and try and get the Bronze medal."
Player Marta Mangue (ESP): “We played a good match but just couldn’t finish. Our defence was good but we were tired and something went wrong. We have a 50/50 chance against Korea now. We are a good team but we must fight. We will do our best not to go home empty handed.”
TEXT: Björn Pazen
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