Norway’s wildly popular women’s national handball team did it again, winning the European Championships for the fourth time in row. The victory, over Sweden, was historic and also wins the team an automatic spot in the next Olympics and World Championships.
The victory on Sunday evening was also especially sweet for the so-called “håndballjentene” (literally, “handball girls,” but a term of endearment and not chauvinism in Norway), because they had lost to Sweden during a preliminary round last week. The loss shocked Norwegian fans and set off a sense of national anxiety, not least because of the ever-present rivalry between Norway and Sweden.
As championship action played out at Euro 2012 in Herning, Denmark, the Norwegian team got its revenge. The match was a thriller, with Sweden taking an early lead and the score often just a point apart.
After the half-time break, the Norwegians roared back, with some players saying later that they sensed the Swedes were getting tired. “We are good at running,” high-scoring player Heidi Løke told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) when it was all over. “And we ran and ran and ran.”
Løke and team captain Gro Hammerseng scored the most goals for the Norwegians, with five each, while Isabelle Gulldén scored seven goals for Sweden. Gulldén’s feat wasn’t enough, though, and the final score ended at 25-20 in favour of the Norwegians.
The Norwegian team was already looking forward to the World Cup in Brazil next year and Sunday’s victory also won it an automatic ticket to the Olympics in London in 2012. “Incredibly wonderful, that will motivate us even more, absolutely,” Hammerseng told NRK.
The European Championships ended with Norway claiming gold, Sweden silver and, in a surprise victory, Romania winning bronze. The Romanian team beat host country Denmark, which had fallen to Norway earlier in the weekend, by a score of 16 to 15. That means the Danish team won’t automatically qualify for next year’s World Championships, and must instead meet Poland in play-off matches next June, according to Norway’s handball foundation (Norges Håndballforbund).
The new coach for the Norwegian team, Thorir Hergeirsson, could boast his first Euro victory. He told TV2, which carried the match live on national TV in Norway on Sunday, he’d taken nothing for granted, however.
“It was a difficult match,” he told TV2. “We knew Sweden would be both tactical and patient. We had to be sharp, but didn’t manage. We threw away a lot of balls, but as long as kept up the tempo, we won in the end.”