A second short of advancing to finals

Norway comes in sixth at men’s handball World Championships

Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum / NTB
Norway goalie Torbjørn Bergerud sticks his leg out against a shot by Spain’s Kauldi Odriozola.

Michael Kleiner
Business & Sports Editor
The Norwegian American

One second. Norway would advance to the semifinals of the men’s world handball championships. Spain’s Alex Dujshebaev Dobichebaeva knotted the game at 25, sending the quarterfinal to overtime–two five-minute periods. In a game worthy of a final that tested each team’s resilience, it took two overtimes to decide the match. Dobichebaeva (7G, 7A) had the clutch goal again, with 46 seconds left, giving Spain a 35-34 win in Gdansk, Poland on Jan. 25. The world title once again eluded Norway.

With four seconds left, Kristian Bjørnsen’s (9G) last chance shot to send the game to free throws was saved by Spain goalie Gonzalo Perez de Vargas Moreno (17 saves).

A team can’t run out the clock in handball. Moments before Dobichebaeva’s tying goal, Bjørnsen was assessed a controversial penalty for “being too passive,” turning the ball over to Spain.

To make matters worse, Spain went scoreless for 6:21 before Dobichebaeva’s tying goal.

“I was involved in two situations that destroy the team,” said Bjørnsen, to NTB. “It is extremely bitter right now. I thought that I didn’t have a clear chance to score, but it was horribly misjudged.”

There were 23 ties in the game, 10 in the second half, nine more in the overtimes. In the second half, Norway had the lead 13 times, Spain once. In the overtimes, Norway held the lead six times, Spain four times, the second time on a goal by Joan Canellas Reixach (5-3) with 3:15 remaining in the second OT for a 33-32 lead. Bjørnsen equalized, Adrià Figueras Trejo restored the Spain advantage. Magnus Abelvik Rød leveled, 34-34, with 1:58 remaining.

“We had the victory well in our pocket, but we weren’t cynical enough,” said superstar Sander Sagosen (3-10) to NTB. “We have to learn from this.”

It seemed a long time since Norway jumped to a 6-2 lead after 7:23, behind two goals by Christian O’Sullivan (4-for-4, 1 assist) and Bjørnsen. Spain scored three straight goals for a 10–9 lead with 8:56 left. After a Norway drought of 7:16, Petter Øverby and Bjørnsen scored, giving Norway a 13-12 lead at intermission.

Nobody could break away in the second half. Goals by Bjørnsen and Sebastian Barthold (8G) gave Norway a 24-22 lead with 7:56 remaining. Spain quickly tied it, but O’Sullivan scored what hoped to be the winning goal with 3:50 left. Bjørnsen scored with one second left in the first overtime set, tying the game at 29. The game was tied at 32 after the first five minutes of the second overtime.

Photo: Stian Lysberg Solum / NTB
Norway men’s handball team bench during quarterfinal against Spain in the world championships.

Norwegian goalie Torbjørn Bergerud had 17 saves.

“What can you say?” said national team manager Jonas Wille, coaching in his first world championships, to Viaplay. “It’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever been a part of. We showed incredible morale. We actually had the win there. There are such incredibly small margins. The referees judge passively since we didn’t take that goal chance. But it is not so easy to assess what the time is.”

Jan. 29: Germany 28, Norway 24 (Stockholm). Norway (Sagosen 2-6, Magnus Gullerud 6-1) fell to Germany (Andreas Wolff 18 saves) to finish sixth for the second straight time, the sixth consecutive tourney Norway finished in the top 10. Championship: Denmark 34, France 29 (3rd straight title; attendance: 23,050; bronze: Spain 39, Sweden 36; Jan 27: Norway 33, Hungary 25: Hungary’s Miklós Rosta received a red card 0:52 into the game, Hungary played a man down the rest of the way, and Norway (Sagosen 7-7) won.


All games at Katowice, Poland

Jan. 23: Norway 28, Germany 26

Germany and Norway had gotten rid of the preliminary stuff, winning all three group games and the first two games in the main round. Norway had never started the tournament 5-0.

This set up a showdown to determine a higher seed in the quarterfinals. The teams didn’t disappoint. Jannik Kohlbacher finished off three straight German goals for its first lead 25-24 with 8:18 left. With 6:13 on the clock, Germany’s Luca Witzke drew a red card. Barthold converted the penalty shot, Gullerud, Rød, and Sagosen (3-4) followed with goals and Norway (Gøran Johannessen 5G) prevailed.

After a wide open first half, each team went through droughts in the second. Bergerud had 12 second-half saves–55% save percentage–allowed one goal in the last 8:18 and was the “Hummel Player of the Match” for the second straight game. Norway took a 20-17 lead 2:54 into the second half, then went scoreless for 9:57. Germany cut the lead to 20-19 with 18:51 left, then didn’t score for 4:50 when Witzke tied it at 20. A 4-2 run gave Norway a 24-22 lead with 11:19 remaining.

Norway jumped to 4-1 lead after 4:03. Then it became nip and tuck. Bjørnsen’s goal with two seconds left in the half, restored a two-goal lead at 18-16.


Jan. 21: Norway 30, Qatar 17

Twelve players scored, led by Johannessen and Bjørnsen (each 6-for-6), Norway shot 75%, and Bergerud had 15 saves (54%).


Jan. 19: Norway 31, Serbia 28

Early in the second half, Serbia took a five-goal lead. Norway went on a 13-4 run between the 37th and 54th minutes for a 29-24 lead. Sagosen (5-6) had 5 goals, Alexander Blonz (4G) 3, Gullerud (4-1) 2, in the run.


All games at Krakow, Poland

Jan. 17: Norway 27, Netherlands 26 

After Netherlands’ Luc Steins (5-5) scored with 6:41 left to forge a 24-24 tie, Rød scored twice and Barthold (4G) once to make the difference for Norway (Sagosen 7-4, Johannessen 4-1).


Jan 15: Norway 32, Argentina 21

Barthold (5G) scored 3 goals in a 5-2 run to give Norway a 16-12 halftime lead. That was followed by an 11-4 burst in the first 21 minutes of the second half for a 27-16 lead. Sagosen (5-1) tallied 3, Rød (5-2) and Bjørnsen (4-1) 2 in the run. Norway shot 74%.


Jan. 13: Norway 39, North Macedonia 27

The score was 9-9 after 19 minutes. Then, Norway went on a 9-2 run over the remainder of the half behind 3 goals by Barthold (5-1) and Rød (6-4), 2 by Sagosen (6-11). Kevin Maagerø Gulliksen added 5 goals as Norway converted 78% of its shots.

This article originally appeared in the March 2023 issue of The Norwegian American.

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Michael Kleiner

Michael Kleiner, business and sports editor, has more than three decades of experience as an award-winning journalist and public relations professional. He has operated his own PR and web design business for small businesses, authors and community organizations in Philadelphia since 1999. Not of Norwegian descent, he lived in Norway for a year with his family at age 11 and has returned as an adult. He is the author of a memoir, Beyond the Cold: An American’s Warm Portrait of Norway, and a member of NorCham Philadelphia. Visit Kleinerprweb.com; beyondthecold.com.