Fans were crying with joy from the grandstands in Paris to living rooms at home in Norway, and tears were shed among players and coaches alike: For the first time ever, Norway’s men’s handball team had made it to the semi-finals of the world championships, and then they won.
As if that wasn’t enough, their victory was over the powerhouse handball team from Croatia, which will now play against Slovenia for the bronze medal. Norway, meanwhile, is assured silver and will now battle for gold against the home-town favorite, France on Sunday.
“This is my biggest dream, to experience this with the national team,” the team’s clearly moved captain Bjarte Myrhol told TV2 after having spent quite a while running around the floor of the arena in ecstasy with his teammates. “It can’t even be described, this is the greatest thing you can experience as a handball player, and here in France! It’s magical.”
Myrhol said he’d had his family in his thoughts during the day: “I had a drawing with me that my son had made, of me wearing a medal, and now it will be hung up in the living room at home.”
Myrhol was the top Norwegian scorer in the match, with six goals. Norway’s goalkeeper Torbjørn Bergerud was also a hero Friday night, after fending off several attempted goals by the Croatians and then the most important of all: An attempted goal after a penalty against the Norwegians in the final seconds of ordinary time.
“It’s him (Bergerud) we can thank for this here,” Myrhol said live on TV2, which had carried coverage of the Handball World Championships from France. “This was a team victory, but we’ve had to have someone outstanding to get to the final, and we have him.” The match was tied, with the score 22-22, when Bergerud saved the day by preventing a Croatian victory and sending the two sides into two extra five-minute periods that ended with the Norwegians’ historic winning score of 28 against the Croatians’ 25.
That initial tie illustrated how close and dramatic the match was, especially in what should have been the final 10 minutes. “I like those situations, when I have everything to win,” Bergerud said. “It was just crazy.”
The Norwegians had gotten off to a rocky start, and didn’t score for more than eight minutes in the otherwise fast-paced game. They recovered, though, and after 17 minutes, the score was tied 6-6. By the time the break came around, Norway was in the lead by a score of 12-10. As Bergerud told TV2, “we just run and run as much as we can.”
The team’s highly respected head coach Christian Berge was among those crying with joy when it was all over. “The boys did a fantastic job,” Berge told TV2, admitting that he hadn’t dared to watch the penalty drama that played a critical role in sending Norway to the finals. “But this was really fun.”