France takes the handball title from Norway

A thriller of a World Championship match ended with France up 2 points for the win

women's handball

Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / VG
The match was close, and often Norway was in the lead, but the team made more mistakes than usual and ended up two points shy of gold.

Jo Christian Weldingh
Oslo, Norway

On Dec. 17, Norway’s women’s handball team played its ninth World Championship final since 1986 in a packed Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg. The stands were colored in red, white, and blue, as thousands of Norwegians traveled to Hamburg to see what they thought was going to culminate in Norway’s fourth World Championship title.

A thriller of a match ended with French victory, 23—21, over a disappointed Norwegian team, especially the keepers, who had been outstanding earlier in the championships but played a weak final.

“We lost to a good team today,” coach Thorir Hergeirsson said after the match. “Sadly, we were not able to reach our top level of performance. We’re missing the last couple of percent in all parts of our game. France plays a very good defensive game, and our offensive lineup lacks guts. As the game turned out, they deserved the victory today. It feels bad, but we have to acknowledge that much. Our keepers weren’t on top of their game either, but neither were our top offensive players.”

Team captain and Championship MVP Stine Bredal Oftedal was devastated when interviewed after the game. “It feels bad,” she said with tear-filled eyes. “We’ve had an amazing championship and then, all of a sudden, we were not able to play our best in the final. I’m disappointed with myself because I don’t feel I was able to contribute today.”

Norway missed four out of seven penalties during the final. Nora Mørk scored two, while Veronica Kristiansen scored one. Mørk, Kristiansen, and Oftedal all missed one each.

After cruising through the earlier rounds, winning most games by close to 10 goals, Norway met their match in a tough French defensive wall. The Norwegian women were big favorites entering the final, but everyone knew that, on a good day, France was capable of causing some trouble for the Norwegian team.

Norway struggled to play their own game in the first half, as France did a good job disrupting their offensive plays and played extremely aggressive in offense. France was leading at halftime.

“Norway is making more mistakes than usual and France is taking advantage of it. We’re inviting them into the game,” handball expert and former Olympic champion Gro Hammerseng commented during the halftime break.

With ten minutes left in the second half the score was 18-18. Neither team was able to break away.

In the last minutes of the game, with Norway trailing by a goal, France got two players sent to the penalty box, but Norway was unsuccessful in taking advantage of playing six against four.

With 30 seconds left to play, France increased their lead to 23-21 and both teams understood that France was about to be World Champions. “The gold is lost,” Norwegian commentator Harald Bredeli proclaimed.

Even though the Norwegian team was disappointed after losing the final, they took their time in the press zone, trying to explain what had just happened, and then a few hours later they were all ready for a banquet at their hotel in the center of Hamburg.

They entered the room in nice dresses and with “Simply the Best” playing on the stereo, but it was obvious from the general mood of the players that they felt like they had lost the gold, not won the silver.

After the game, Hergeirsson spoke out about the media putting too much pressure on the Norwegian team. “A lot of people tell me that silver isn’t good enough and that we should win every championship we’re a part of,” he said. “That really bleeps me off. They need to be more humble. I get sick of the media taking championship titles for granted.”

Jo Christian Weldingh grew up in Lillehammer, Norway, and lives in Oslo. He has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology from the University of Oslo and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from BI Norwegian Business School.

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 12, 2018, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.