Men’s handball team still chasing a title

Norway knocked out of world championship in quarterfinals

men's handball

Photo: Petr David Josek /POOL/ AP/ NTB Scanpix
Norway’s Gran Johannessen tries to maintain his balance while also getting rid of the ball and overcoming the defensive efforts of Spain’s Alex Dujshebaev. Action occurred in the quarterfinal game of the men’s handball world championships, Jan 27 in Cairo.


Norway’s dream of its first ever world championship title was broken by a strong Spanish team 31-26 on Jan. 27 in Cairo. When star player Sander Sagosen was injured mid-game, the Norwegians had no chance. 

Sagosen, last year’s Best Player in the World, had 54 goals and 31 assists in seven tournament games.

After losing the world championship final in 2017 and 2019, the Norwegian men’s team was hoping to win their first ever title in this year’s championship in Egypt. Despite a loss to France in their opening game, 28-24, Jan. 14 in the group phase, they reached the quarterfinal by beating Switzerland 31-25, Austria, 38-29, in the group stage, and Portugal, 29-28, Algeria, 36-23, and Iceland, 35-33, in the main round. There they met Spain, last year’s European champions, a team Norway had not beaten since 1997 (18 games). Both teams had played impressive handball in the championship tournament, and it was an open game, which either team could win, but the Spanish team turned out to be the stronger side and won the quarterfinal.

It started out as an even game, and the score was even (6-6) after 12 minutes of play. The Spanish team dominated every part of the game from then on and had a six-goal lead at halftime, 21-15. It did not make the situation better when Sagosen, Norway’s top scorer and most valuable player, had to limp off the court with a muscle injury midway through the first half—weakening the Norwegian’s offensive fire power significantly. He had four goals in the game at that point. Magnus Jøndal led Norway with six goals, Christian O’Sullivan had three goals and seven assists, and Gøran Søgard Johannessen scored four goals and assisted on four. 

The 25-year-old Sagosen tried to play the second half but had to be taken off after one offensive play.

“He got an opponent’s knee in his abdomen. It’s not anything dangerous, but it’s very painful,” Norway’s physiotherapist told Viasat at the time.

Sagosen of the Norwegian men's handball team

Photo: Petr David Josek /POOL/ AP/ NTB Scanpix
A dejected Sander Sagosen walks off the court after Norway lost to Spain, 31-25, in the quarterfinals of the men’s handball world championship on Jan. 27. An injury kept Norway’s best player off the court for most of the second half.

The Norwegians started the second half great and shrank Spain’s lead down to three points after 10 minutes of play in the second half, but Spain’s lead was never really threatened. Norway missed too many chances, and Spain’s goalkeeper, Rodrigo Corrales, was one of the best players on the court.

“I’m disappointed,” Norwegian coach Christian Berge told after full-time. “It’s disappointing, because we aimed so high before the championship. It was a tough game, but we had chances in the second half and weren’t able to take advantage of them.”

Spain met Denmark in their semifinal and lost, 35-32, while Sweden beat France, 32-26, in their semifinal making the final a battle between two Nordic countries. In an even final, Denmark, the most experienced squad, won the game, 26-24, and their second consecutive World Championship title. Norwegian Glenn Solberg coaches the Swedes, who received its first World Cup medal since 2001. Spain took the bronze, beating France, 31-25.

Norwegian men’s handball has traditionally been overshadowed by the Norwegian women’s successful championship campaigns, but in the last few years, the men seem to have caught up with the women. The Norwegian club teams are suddenly able to compete in the European cups, and the national team has reached two finals. Norway might have the world’s best player in Sagosen and a young squad. They are mentioned as title candidates before every championship, and it might be only a matter of time before the nationals win their first title.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 12, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.

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Jo Christian Weldingh

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.