02 Dec. 2023
There have been three one-goal games so far at the 23th IHF Women’s World Championship, all of which were decided with thrilling finishes in the dying seconds. In Group F in Herning, Xenia Smits netted a last-second outside shot for Germany to defeat Japan 31:30, while the opening night of action in Group C in Stavanger saw Austria beat Republic of Korea with a penalty to end the game 30:29.
But the most interesting, in terms of the significance for both teams, has to be the exciting duel between France and Angola to end Round 1 for Group D, also in Stavanger. The contest between the current Olympic champions and runners-up at the last World Championship, France, and African title holders Angola ended 30:29 after an impressive comeback from Angola. And in the end France secured the win thanks really to luck, as Isabel Guialo’s last shot, seconds from the end, hit the post — a matter of centimetres to the right and it would have been a draw.
It was a remarkable game for more than one reason. As the 15-time African champions, including all titles but one since 1998, Angola are no easy team to beat and have pulled off some memorable upsets on a game-by-game basis at global championships. But France are back-to-back Olympic medallists, have reached the European championship semi-finals the last four times in a row and the final in both 2018 and 2020, and played the title game at Spain 2021 — they are indisputably a big favourite for the trophy at any competition in recent years and have the consistent results to prove why that is the case.
It is therefore not a huge surprise, but also no small feat for Angola to keep France to a one-goal game. So what is the significance in the context of this World Championship? For Angola, it shows there is great promise to proceed much further than they did in 2021, when they placed 25th after being knocked out of the contest in the preliminary round. For France, escaping with the two points while learning what they need to work on for the coming games is the main takeaway.
“We don’t come here just to participate”
“We knew since the beginning that today would be a very tough game and it was, but I’m proud of my team because we fought until the end,” said Angola line player Albertina Kassoma.
It was indeed a great fight to the end from the African side, who were five goals behind with eight minutes to go, yet came back to level in the 59th with Guialo’s fifth goal out of the six she would finish with.
Asked what the team talked about in the moment of targeting a comeback, Kassoma said: “We have to fight until the end, and we did this. Of course, we knew that France is a very good team — one of the best — and we knew that it will be very hard but we also believe in us and we don’t come here just to participate. We want to show the world that we also can achieve good results.”
“It’s better to have it now than in the future”
For France, the match may not have progressed as they hoped, but a win is a win, and the key fact is they collected the valuable two points. Goalkeeper Laura Glauser said her team were not satisfied with their own performance but credited Angola with making it so.
“Now we have a lot of frustration because we didn’t play like we expect and they caused us a lot of problems. But I think that tonight with a little bit of calm we will say this is the most important, to have two points for the next step,” said Glauser, before commenting on how it is a positive thing to have such a push in the first game.
“For sure it’s a good thing because like this, we can see the things that we have to fix. We had a lot of problems. We have a lot of things to see and so, like this, we can fix it with the time and it’s better to have it now than in the future.”
A shaky start is nothing for France to be concerned about, as their track record proves — when they have won trophies, the journey often began with an early loss or even several. At the 2017 World Championship, on the path to the world title, France were defeated by Slovenia in their opener. When they won the EHF EURO 2018, France lost their first game, played on home ground no less, to Russia. When they took the Olympic title at Tokyo 2020, France had a rough ride to the quarter-finals, losing twice and drawing once in five preliminary round games.
Therefore, it seems clear France may in fact benefit from the tough challenge brought by Angola.
The Olympic title holders are known for their defence and it is no surprise that Glauser highlights that as what France need to work on, given the side will always look to their defence as the base upon which all is built. “We are strong in defence and today it was not our strong part.”
On Saturday, France will meet Iceland, while Angola will play Slovenia, who have two points in their account from their round 1 victory over Iceland. And Slovenia can expect to meet a very determined and confident Angola side following their promising opener: “This gives us motivation for the next game — that we will come stronger than today,” concluded Kassoma.