19 Dec. 2021
Down six goals in the 28th minute, Norway delivered one of the most surprising comebacks in history in 25 editions of the IHF Women’s World Championship to bounce back against reigning Olympic champions France and secure the gold medal at Spain 2021 with a 29:22 win.
France were limited to only six goals in the second half, after a vintage display from Norway, who tie Russia for the most gold medals in the history of the competition, and secured the 30th medal in major international competitions.
France vs Norway 22:29 (16:12)
One could hear the cowbells used by Norway’s fans from miles away if coming close to the Palau d’Esports de Granollers as soon as their favourites took the court for the warm-up. But the roars from the thousands of French fans were even louder, as the traditional “Allez les Bleuses” chants were meant to lift up the spirits of Olivier Krumbholz’s players.
And it is exactly what they did, as France looked pumped up and ready to take on Norway’s challenge in the fourth IHF Women’s World Championship final between the two sides, a record in the world handball flagship competition.
For 30 minutes, the reigning Olympic champions reduced Norway’s attack to a rather pedestrian one, with the speed dialled down and the usually efficient Scandinavian wings scoring for the first time only in the 25th minute, when France were already up by five goals.
Of course, it was everything thanks to another dominant defensive display, as the mobility and the grit thrown into the mix by France were too much for the creative Norway backs, like Nora Mork and Stine Bredal Oftedal. Mork was limited to only two goals from six shots, while Oftedal scored only once in the first 30 minutes, with France emanating the confidence needed by a challenger for the world title.
The hammer blow did not come until a 5:0 unanswered run from France, who prevented Norway from scoring for seven minutes and 52 seconds. In attack, line player Pauletta Foppa was nothing short of amazing, scoring twice and securing another two penalties converted by Alisson Pineau, France’s top scorer in the first half with four goals.
Norway did attempt a comeback and with three goals from right wing Malin Aune and one each from Mork and Reistad, they did cut the gap to only four goals, 16:12, but the damage looked to be already done. Could France, a team renowned for their efficiency, concede a loss from this position?
It needed heavy lifting from Norway, who needed to clean up their act, forget about their mistakes and especially improve in the goalkeeper position, where Katrine Lunde and Silje Solberg had combined for three saves in the first half, with saving percentages of 17% and 14%.
To use words for what followed is quasi-impossible. Because the Palau d’Esport de Granollers witnessed one of the most incredible turnarounds, if not the biggest ever in the history of women’s handball at this stage.
With Norway down by six goals by the 28th minute, they came out a totally different side from the locker rooms and managed to turn the game on its head in a matter of minutes. In fact, in the 50th minute, they were leading by six themselves, 26:20, after limiting France to scoring only four goals in 22 minutes.
But what did really happen? The Scandinavian powerhouse, who looked like they were missing the chance to secure their fourth world title, returned to the basics. Or their basics, which feature a high-octane attack, a tough defence, especially in the centre of the court and converting fast breaks at an alarming pace.
It all started with goalkeeper Silje Solberg, who replaced Katrine Lunde between the posts, starting to frustrate France. In fact, Solberg saved 11 shots in the second half, with eight of those coming after one-on-one with French attackers. Then, it all boiled down to left back Henny Reistad, herself starting on the bench, doing the sorts of things she is best of, finishing the game with six goals and two assists.
And an unexpected assist came from France, who lowered their ceiling enormously, by scoring only six goals in the second half. It was more of a mental block, with easy mistakes which were easily taken advantage of by Norway, as Krumbholz’s side finished the game with 19 turnovers.
But it was, in fact, a triumph of experience, mentality and depth, with Norway always believing in themselves and never giving up regardless of the odds being stacked against them. The 29:22 win helped them finish an edition of the IHF Women’s World Championship undefeated for the first time, as Norway won eight games and drew another one, against Sweden, on their way to the gold medal.
Spain 2021’s final will surely become a vintage game over time, but for Norway it will be the match that helped them win the fourth-ever gold medal at the IHF Women’s World Championship, to tie Russia as the all-time leader in wins in the world handball flagship competition.
Norway have extended their collection of medals at the IHF Women’s World Championship to 11, the most in history, while France won their third silver medal in history, after conceding only one game at Spain 2021, the final against Norway.
hummel Player of the Match: Silje Solberg, Norway