The GETEC-Arena in Magdeburg waved goodbye to the IHF Women’s World Championship with two quarter-final clashes that saw order restored in a competition that has been full of surprises so far.
The two finalists of the last IHF Women’s World Championship - Denmark 2015 - both qualified through to face each other in the semi-finals after Netherlands beat Czech Republic by four (30:26) and Norway had a strangely routine 17-goal victory over a previously unbeaten Russia (34:17).
Netherlands vs Czech Republic 30:26 (17:16)
Social media is interwoven in our daily lives and for many, the first point of expressing our feelings. The Czech Republic Handball Federation are no different as moments after this loss, they summarised their four-goal quarter-finals defeat to Netherlands– their first-ever time at this stage – by quite simply saying “the fairy tale is over”.
But, for the Oranje, it’s yet another championship and another guaranteed top four spot in a major competition. In the past four major international women’s championships they have finished no lower than fourth - in December 2015 they claimed a silver medal at the IHF Women’s World Championship in Denmark after losing to Norway in the final. A year later, at the EHF EURO 2016 in Sweden it was the same result. In between, they finished fourth in Rio – losing to Norway in the bronze medal match in late August.
And after the results today they will again face Norway, in the semi-finals of Germany 2017.
Those are the facts, but again, like their eighth-final match against Japan, the Dutch were never in top gear despite taking a 7:1 lead in the first 10 minutes that also saw Czech coach Jan Basny take an early time out, and the Dutch play with five after two suspensions for Jessy Kramer and Kelly Dulfer for dragging and pushing the Czech attack down. On the other side, Lois Abbingh’s eight first-half (14 in total) goals were peppered throughout the match, earning her a deserved best player award.
However, this did little to deter a near full comeback from the Czech side, but they literally threw away the chance to equalise at 11:10 (23rd minute) when Dominika Zachova stepped in the area on a fast-break when shooting and then had subsequent shots saved or hit the bar. With under two minutes left of the first-half, the Czechs came close again as the impressive Lucie Satapova in goal made another one of her 12 first-half saves (44%) and then sunk home from long range into an empty Dutch net to bring it within one again (16:15).
The second half saw Netherlands finally get in their stride as the Czech Republic managed to keep in touch, but moments after the Basny’s squad missed an opportunity to go 25:24 up, Angela Malestein finally got on the scoresheet (51st minute) for the Dutch to put her side 25:24 up instead, and they were never caught again.
“The first half was very good for us,” said Netherlands coach Helle Thomsen after the game. “Maybe it wasn’t the best handball, but it was a good fight.”
“We had a very good start which was followed by some problems,” said Dutch player Martine Smeets. “We kept fighting though and that brought us the win today.”
For Basny, he was still happy, despite the defeat. “In the last 10 minutes we just couldn’t close the gap,” he said. “Very often we had to play five players against six, so it was very difficult for us.
“Nevertheless, I am very happy and proud of the performance of my team in this tournament and I’d like to congratulate my players.”
Kristyna Salcakova, fighting back the tears of defeat, was also proud of her Czech side. “For me personally it was a one of the deepest feelings I have ever felt in sports - it would have been a dream come true [to qualify through to the semi-finals]. I really felt well with the team and in today’s match and we were almost the better team.
“We were fighting to win, but unfortunately didn’t get it. I wish Netherlands good luck for the final weekend.”
Player of the Match presented by adidas: Lois ABBINGH (NED)
Norway vs Russia 34:17 (15:8)
In what was set to be a battle of defences pre-match, Russia showed little of theirs with their goal net constantly being bothered throughout the 60 minutes as Norway went on a scoring rampage - seven up at the break (15:8) and then into a double-figure lead for the first time five minutes into the second half (19:9 – 35th minute).
Such was their rate of scoring and tough defence, that Norway coach Thorir Hergeirsson took a time out in the 17th minute when his side had let an 8:2 lead go down to 8:5. But they soon stormed back, with nine players in total scoring, including a combination of 17 goals between Nora Mork and Stine Oftedal, whose performance earned her the player of the match award.
While the result and performance go some way to overcoming the disappointment of losing to the Russians in their Rio 2016 Olympic Games semi-final clash, Norway now face a Netherlands team looking to finally break their losing record as they go head-to-head in two days in the semi-finals.
“I am very pleased with the attitude of the players - the defence and the goalkeepers were very strong today,” said Norway coach Thorir Hergeirsson. “These [performances] made the match maybe one of the best games since I came along many years ago. It was fantastic.
“But in handball we will only be able to celebrate tonight and then work hard tomorrow to find out how to beat Netherlands, because they’re a good team.”
One of his goalkeepers who performed at a high level was Kari Aalvik Grimsbo who was also full of smiles in the post-match press conference. “We are very happy today,” she said. “We played very well and got stronger and stronger. We fought from the beginning and did everything we talked about beforehand. We had a very good preparation and fought as a team all the way.”
“We had a tough opponent with Russia,” she continued. “We were very excited and nervous, but in the end, we succeeded.”
“Today was an awful game for our team,” said Russia coach Evegeny Trefilov. “We were bad in the defence but also in attack.” Goalkeeper Elena Utkina agreed with her coach, saying simply: “It was a bad game for us today.”
Player of the Match presented by adidas: Stine OFTEDAL (NOR)