Oh, so close…

Norway’s men’s handball team loses Euro Championship semifinal; rebounds for bronze

European handball

Photo: Vidar Ruud / NTB Scanpix
The European men’s handball bronze medalists, Norway, after defeating Slovenia 28-20 in the bronze medal game Jan. 25 in Stockholm.

Jo Christian Weldingh

Norway’s men’s handball team easily beat Slovenia 28-20 in the bronze medal game at the European Championships in Stockholm on Jan. 25 and won their first-ever bronze medal. This, after a championship with many highs and only one low, if you can call it that, the semifinal loss against handball giant Croatia on Jan. 24.

Whereas the bronze medal game was one-sided and lacked excitement, the semifinal was the opposite. The drama against Croatia lasted the whole match. The game was decided by a Croatian goal scored four seconds before the end of the fourth period of extra time, 29-28.

The Norwegians struggled with their offensive game against the Croatian 5-1 defense and made more technical errors than usual. The Croatian keeper, Marin Sego, started the match brilliantly. After 20 minutes, he had stopped 80% of the shots. Still, Norway improved as the game went on, and left-winger Magnus Jøndal scored the equalizer with only seconds left of regular time and was able to push the game into overtime.

When a tie needs to be broken in handball, two straight 5-minute overtimes are played. The teams switch sides at halftime. If the teams are still tied after that, the overtime procedure is repeated once more; a further draw will result in a penalty shootout.

One round was not enough to separate the two teams. Sander Sagosen (10 goals), the 24-year-old Norwegian superstar, called by many the best player in the world, equalized to 24-24 and then again to 25-25, before Norway’s right-winger and team captain Kristian Bjørnsen scored the 26-25 goal. In the last second of extra time, Domagoj Duvnjak (8G) scored the Croatian equalizer on a penalty.

Two more periods of extra time were needed. In the first one, the Norwegians played sloppily; they committed many severe technical errors and missed several shots. By a stroke of good luck, Bjørnsen scored the 28-28 goal seven seconds before the third period ended.

Norway continued to struggle with technical errors and missed shots in the fourth period of extra time. Keeper Torbjørn Bergerud elevated his game in the last period, but when Gøran Johannessen’s last shot hit the post, Croatia was able to score the game-winning goal with only four seconds left on the clock.

European handball

Photo: Vidar Ruud /NTB Scanpix
Norway’s Sander Sagosen winds up to shoot as he gets past Nik Henigman of Slovenia during the bronze medal game Jan. 25 at the European Handball Championship in Stockholm.

While the Norwegians despaired, both on and off the court, the Croatian players and spectators cheered and cried tears of joy.

“It doesn’t get much worse than this,” Norwegian back Christian O’Sullivan told VG minutes after the match.

He’s wrong. The Norwegian team won eight matches and lost only one (after four periods of extra time), which makes this year’s European Championship their best championship ever. The team is very young, with most of the players in their early 20s, with their best handball years ahead of them. With two championships in the next 12 months (The Olympics in August and The World Championship in January 2021), time is on their side, and the team of talented young Norwegians will get more chances.

Jønsdal had seven goals, Bjørnsen five, Sagosen, and Johannessen four in the bronze medal game. Sagosen led the tournament with 65 goals.

“It feels like a punch to the face, but we have to learn from it. When we’re here next time, we’ll take it,” Sagosen told VG after the loss against Croatia.

Spain beat Croatia 22-20 for the gold.

This article originally appeared in the February 7, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American.

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The Norwegian American

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