Norway’s best Euro Championships yet

Men’s handball team excels in Euro 2016 despite disappointing fourth-place finish

Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / VG  Norway’s handball guys have their best showing yet with fourth place in Euro 2016.

Photo: Bjørn S. Delebekk / VG
Norway’s handball guys have their best showing yet with fourth place in Euro 2016.

Molly Jones
Norwegian American Weekly

The Norwegian men’s handball team follows up on the women’s outstanding World Championship gold with their best performance yet in the European Handball Championship.

Norway had a great start in the competition—held in Poland from Jan. 15 to 31—advancing to the main round after topping Group B in the group stage. The team continued to lead in the main round, with impressive wins against Poland (30-28) and France (29-24) and a draw against Macedonia.

With the number one position in Group I, Norway advanced to the semifinals to face Germany on Jan. 29.

The Norwegians and Germans were neck and neck throughout the entire match. With three minutes of regular match play to go, Norway led by one goal. But Germany came back to tie it up at 27-27, and they battled into overtime. The teams continued to keep up with each other, but in the final seconds Germany scored the final goal to win 34-33 and advance to the final.

Despite Norway’s loss, many feel that this was the most exciting and dramatic match in the team’s history.

“There was not a player who didn’t give everything they had. So it ended up in a fifty-fifty fight at the end. Germany drew the longest straw, but it’s not because they’re playing better handball, it was decided purely by chance,” argued Norway’s team captain Bjarte Myrhol to NRK.

While Germany went on to defeat Spain 24-17 for the gold, Norway faced Croatia on Jan. 31 in the fight for the bronze medal.

Several penalties called against Norway towards the end (argued by many on the Norwegian side as unfair calls) helped Croatia to increase their lead. In the end, the Croatians won 31-24 to take third place.

“I don’t think we delivered a top performance today,” said left back Erlend Mamelund to NRK. “We are not as sharp as we have been before. And I think we are unlucky with a few refereeing decisions today.”

With this loss to Croatia, Norway ended in fourth place and missed out on the automatic qualification to next year’s World Championship.

Nevertheless, their success is widely considered to be the team’s best European Championship in history.

“During the championship, we have increased our level of play by several notches. We have fought with the best, and the team we lost to with the least possible margin [Germany] became the European champions,” says Handball President Kåre Geir Lio.

To demonstrate Norway’s improvement, VG compared the team’s stats this year with the last European Championships. In 2014, Norway scored 77 goals over three games for an average of 25.66 goals per game. This year, Norway averaged 29.37 goals with 235 goals throughout eight games.

Following the championship, an All Star Team was selected based on the players’ performances throughout the competition. For the first year, fans were able to vote for their favorites. The people’s vote counted for 40%, while the experts’ was worth 60%.

Norway’s four candidates were Bjarte Myrhol, Sander Sagosen, Harald Reinkind, and Kristian Bjørnsen. Center back Sagosen—who secretly played the final two matches with a broken hand—made it on to the squad. At 20 years old, he is the youngest player on the All Star Team.

“The handball boys lost the medal this time, but they have won the hearts of Norwegians,” said the Minister of Culture Linda Hofstad Helleland (H).

“In a few months at Rio, we can beat our chests as the best handball nation in the world. Then we cannot be anything but pleased,” she continued.

The men’s team still has a tough journey ahead to qualify for the Summer Olympics in Rio, however. While the women’s team qualified when they took the gold at the World Championships in December, the men’s team still have to compete in the qualification round against Denmark, Croatia, and Bahrain in April, and only the top two teams will move on Rio.

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 12, 2016, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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