Record champions Norway target gold number eight
Norwegian women’s handball finds itself in a strange and unfamiliar situation. Since winning EHF EURO 2016, Stine Oftedal and co. have not raised another trophy. At EHF EURO 2018 in France, the record champions missed out on the European semi-final for the first time since 2000.
The plan was to get back on the podium in 2020 on home court, Norway wanted to become the first EHF EURO hosts since Denmark in 2002 to win the gold at home but COVID-19 changed everything.
Norway cannot host the event, which is now played in Denmark, but they still go into the event with an eye for the top prize and their eighth EHF EURO gold.
Big names missing between the goalposts
One of the traditional Norwegian strengths has been their goalkeepers, the likes of Cecilie Leganger, Heidi Tjugum, Katrine Lunde, Kari Grimsbø and Silje Solberg between the posts guaranteed success, medals and trophies.
Now, the situation looks different: Lunde and Solberg had been set for the EHF EURO 2020, after Grimsbø retired. However, Lunde will miss the event through pregnancy and Solberg is currently out of action as she tested positive for COVID-19 with a return date for the Györ goalkeeper uncertain.
That brings 31-year-old Emily Stang Sando back in the squad. Due to the high-class competition in the position, the Bietigheim goalkeeper played only 26 international matches over the years but was there to win EHF EURO 2014, when she saved two crucial penalties in the final against Spain.
“I am ready, but I know that either you are the fool or the hero on this position, there is nothing in between,” she said. Second goalkeeper is Rikke Granlund (Team Esbjerg), who had her debut in the national team in the 27:25 win in the penultimate test match against Denmark on Wednesday.
How huge is the impact of losing the home advantage?
We know just how loyal and passionate Norwegian handball fans are. They travel the world, particularly for the final weekends of major tournaments, even last year in Japan.
The enthusiasm for the women’s national team was clear to see in 2010 in Lillehammer and it will be a big loss to be without them in Kolding.
Three years ago, almost 8,000 Norwegian fans were in Hamburg for the World Championship final. When it became obvious that all over Europe no fans will be able to attend sports events, this home advantage for Trondheim, Stavanger and Oslo was gone for the Norwegians.
But even without the chance of playing at home, the players are extremely glad that they have the chance to play.
“We are incredibly happy that we get the opportunity to play championships in Denmark. We hope we can help spread some joy in a difficult time,” said team captain Stine Bredal Oftedal.
Under the spotlight: Nora Mørk
After almost two years to forget due to severe knee injuries and tough post-operation rehab, Nora Mørk returned to Norway. In the summer, the top scorer of EHF EURO 2016 and four-time EHF Champions League winner joined Vipers Kristiansand and had a remarkable comeback.
Of course, the left-handed superstar is not at 100% yet but will be a crucial factor for the team on and off the court, hoping to win her fourth European gold medal.
Norway is the only EHF EURO participant with two IHF World Players of the Year in their squad: 2019 awardee Stine Oftedal and 2011 winner Heidi Löke.
Both are coached by the two-time IHF World Coach of the Year, Thorir Hergeirsson, and will face the only four-time World Player of the Year, Cristian Neagu, in their last preliminary round match against Romania.
EHF EURO participations (including 2020): 14
Winners (7): 1998, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2014, 2016
2nd: 1996, 2002, 2012
Winners: 1999, 2011, 2015
2nd: 1997, 2001, 2007, 2017
3rd: 1986, 1993, 2009
Winners: 2008, 2012
2nd: 1988, 1992
3rd: 2000, 2016