Norway women win 8th European handball title
JO CHRISTIAN WELDINGH
The Norwegian women’s handball team got revenge on France for the loss in the 2017 World Championship final when they beat the French women 22-20 in the final of the 2020 European Championship in Herning, Denmark, Dec. 20, winning their first championship title in four years. Croatia won the third-place game over the host nation, 25-19, to win their first ever medal. It was Norway’s eighth European championship.
Heading into the championship, Norway and France were the biggest title favorites according to most experts and proved all through the tournament that their quality was a notch or two above the other teams. Both teams qualified for the final without losing a single game in the group and main rounds. Norway edged Denmark 27-24 in the semis, while France beat Croatia 30-19.
France was the best team in the first part of the first half, while the Norwegians struggled with their offensive play. Norway did not take the lead before 12 minutes were played. In the last 18 minutes of the first half, however, Norway was the best team—much thanks to brilliant play by goalkeeper Silje Solberg—and were leading by four goals at halftime, 14-10.
“I feel the game has developed in a positive way for the Norwegian team,” commentator Frode Kyvåg said at halftime. “If Silje Solberg continues this way, I’m not sure it will be as close as expected.”
Kyvåg’s prediction almost came true, as Solberg continued her brilliant performance throughout the second half, but the Norwegian offense continued to struggle against a strong French defense. With five minutes left to play, the score was tied 19-19, and the game was still very much alive. When it mattered most, Norwegian superstar right back Nora Mørk scored two quick goals to make it 21-19, and France failed to respond.
Mørk and Solberg were the key to Norwegian success in the championship. Solberg saved 46% of the shots against her. Mørk made the all-star team, as she did in 2014 and 2016, and was also the tournament’s top goal scorer with 52 goals (25 assists) and an amazing 74% shot accuracy in eight games. Mørk had four goals, two assists in the championship game. She has been plagued by injuries in the last few years and has not played a championship game for Norway since losing the final to France in 2017.
“It doesn’t feel real. I am enormously proud, and I feel like thanking everyone who has helped me along the way,” Mørk said when interviewed on live TV after the game.
“For me, it is a victory in itself that I play handball at all with screws in my knees and 10 operations. It hangs incredibly high. It has cost a lot to come back,” she told NTB.
Both teammates and experts hold the 29-year-old Mørk in high regard.
“She is a true winner, she really is,” former national women’s team player Randi Gustad told VG.
“Her focus is unreal. Many handball players have been injured, but I have never seen anyone with the stamina and patience she has shown. It’s difficult to compare handball to other sports, but in handball she’s one of a kind.”
Norway’s captain, Stine Bredal Oftedal is equally impressed, “I get emotional,” Oftedal, who led the tourney with 41 assists to go along with 31 goals, told VG. “She keeps impressing me time and time again. Her mental abilities are something special. The way she believes in herself and contributes… she’s one of a kind.”
In addition to Mørk, both center back Oftedal (three goals in the final) and left-wing Camilla Herrem (three goals) made the all-star team. Herrem contributed 33 goals as Norway averaged 31.75 (254 goals) a game. Herrem was named the best left wing. Herrem, Katrine Lunde, and Marit Malm Frafjord tied former Norwegians Karoline Breivang, Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth Koren and Kari Aalvik Grimsbø as the only players with five EHF EURO titles.
After four years without a title, Norway’s gold medal might be the boost the team needed in the preparations for next summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo. The bronze medal from Rio 2016 was a disappointment to both the team and the fans, and this win might give them the confidence to go for gold. Norway won Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012.
“All the players had the hunger to win the tournament and they have really outdone themselves,” manager Thorir Hergeirsson told NTB. “It was crucial that they could change their game, like against Denmark or France. When they came back, we showed team spirit and focus. It was one of the best wins we ever had.
”Back home, as many as 1.4 million people watched the final on TV. When the team’s plane landed at Gardemoen the next day, it taxied under an arch water salute from two fire engines, an honor usually reserved for retiring pilots and air traffic controllers.
This article originally appeared in the Jan. 15, 2021, issue of The Norwegian American.