Montenegro on brink of Tokyo 2020

19 Mar. 2021

Montenegro on brink of Tokyo 2020

Host nation Montenegro made the best possible start to their Tokyo 2020 qualification campaign, beating 2020 European champions Norway by five goals (28:23) this evening in Podgorica in the first match of the Tokyo Handball Qualification 2020 – Women’s Tournament 3.

It was only the second-ever win against Norway for the nation who only played their first official game back in 2006 and it means they can almost taste Japan.

"I'm so proud of my team," said Montenegro captain Jovanka Radicevic after the match. "Before this tournament I said that you will see on court the ‘Lions’, and I think that we showed this. I'm proud because from the first second until the end, we breathe like a family. We support each other all the time. Even if Norway was close with one goal behind us we didn't step back, we fight and we trust each other."

Norway vs Montenegro 23:28 (12:13)

Montenegro coach Kim Rasmussen is one step away from being given the freedom of the country as he watched his defence completely disrupt and destroy the Norwegian attack this evening, while his own attack offered no mercy in front of the Norwegian goal.

Norway shotstopper Katrine Lunde ended the match with just four saves on her account on the night the legendary player overtook Karoline Dyhre Breivang to become the all-time leading Norwegian international, on 306 appearances.

And it was business as usual for Norway as after just 34 seconds Ema Ramusovic was walking to the Montenegrin bench, having been served a two-minute suspension. Nora Mork subsequently came on and dispatched the resulting seven metre into the net, 1:0 to Norway.

Mork had a specialised role tonight due to some injury doubts, only taking the penalty shots, and everything was going to plan for Thorir Hergeirsson and his all-conquering Norwegian side.

However, Montenegro were not interested in waiting around for what Norway had planned – they had their own plans and by the 13th minute, they had been so effective in defence and attack that Hergeirsson and Norway took their first time-out.

The stats told the story – Montenegro were 9:4 ahead after 12 attacks and Norway had scored just four in their 11.

As much as Norway came back for the remainder of the half, Montenegro did enough to keep their noses in front, their 5-1 defence – and at times 4-2 – proving insurmountable and disruptive. How many times do you see Stine Bredal Oftedal mishandle the ball in the middle?

By half-time Norway had come back within one (12:13) and the few people inside the arena watching – including the entire Romanian squad – were set to see a classic.

"Montenegro played very well, they played with their heart and also with their head," said Hergeirsson after the match. "We never came seriously into the game. The first 15 minutes we were a little bit shaky and the last 15 minutes of the first half I thought we played quite well in defence and Katrine in goal. In offence it was OK so we were quite near at half-time. The second half we lose them again, they made a gap and we never managed to close this gap."

However, time and time again Montenegro halted Norway and made them pay, opening up their lead to five again (19:14) just before the 40th minute.

If the visitors did not realise the pressure on them to claw back at least a draw now, then their various support staff sitting in the stands, trying to do their best to encourage and make noise in the empty, behind-closed-doors arena, made it clear: time was running out.

Mork was standing from the bench, nervously encouraging her side but Jovanka Radicevic, Majda Mehmedovic on court and Bojana Popovic from the bench – all London 2012 silver medallists after losing to Norway in the final – were leading their team with controlled passion into a professional wrapping-up of the points.

Rasmussen took his second time-out just before the last quarter (21:17) to ensure the business end of the match was carried out satisfactorily as the Norwegian cheers for each goal scored, the gaps between them getting bigger, gradually faded.

A second Norway time-out with just under 10 minutes remaining and six behind (19:25) afforded Radicevic a knowing kiss and hug of her players with victory in sight, but Rasmussen used the pause to again control the emotion. “Breathe, breathe” he was saying as he told his squad to prepare for a possible 7-vs-6 onslaught.

But it never came. Montenegro slowed the game down and when Durdina Jaukovic smashed home another nine-metre rocket (26:20), it left goalkeeper Silje Solberg hanging on the post, dejected with the insurmountable lead her opponents had. 

Norway could not even manage one from that distance in the whole game and by the time Rasmussen took his third time-out, it was a very different scenario, full of smiles as the job had been done in their own style. It was their win and one to savour.

"Montenegro did a really good game," said Norway's Kari Brattset Dale. "We struggled in every aspect of the game. It was really disappointing. We really wanted these two points in the first game and I think all the girls, we cannot be sad for too long we just have to concentrate on the game tomorrow [against Romania]."

Photo: Luka Novovic / RSCG