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The french team faces World Champion Norway in the final. - Photo: Stephane Pillaud

France take on top-form defending champions in trophy match

Norway aim to reclaim the title won in 2015, while France hope for their second IHF Women’s World Championship trophy.

The Germany 2017 race has reached its final stage, as 24 teams have been reduced to just two, who will fight for the 23rd IHF Women’s World Championship trophy on Sunday in Hamburg. For the second time in 2017, it is France and Norway who will contest the World Championship title, after the men’s national teams did so in January in Paris – where France claimed their record sixth gold medal, defending their Qatar 2015 title in the process.

In the women’s event the situation is reversed, as it is Norway that enter the final looking to reclaim the trophy won in 2015 – and who appear the strong favourites to do so.

Prior to the final at 17:30 local time in Hamburg, The Netherlands and Sweden meet for the bronze-medal match.

 

Final: France vs Norway 17:30 local time

No matter whether France claim the title on Sunday or not, 2017 has been a very successful year for French handball. After the men’s national team won the World Championship trophy in a fairy tale home tournament in January, the Under 21 men’s side took bronze at the Junior World Championship in Algeria in July, and the Under 19 squad successfully defended the 2015 title when they lifted the trophy in Georgia in August. The women’s team have now secured the nation’s fourth World Championship medal in 2017 – all that remains is to find out which colour it will be.

Though it has been a very positive year in general for French handball, and a great 18 months for the women’s national team, who have now won their third major international medal since August 2016 (silver at the 2016 Olympic Games, bronze at the EHF EURO 2016), Norway are the undeniable favourites to take the gold medal in a sold-out Barclaycard Arena on Sunday evening.

“Norway have played so many finals in their history,” says France back Allison Pineau, who scored several crucial goals in the final minutes of their semi-final against Sweden, playing an important role in the 24:22 victory. “It won’t be easy, but I think we have opportunities.”

Her coach, Olivier Krumbholz, added: “Norway play in a new way, with backs that are not very tall, but very fast.

“They are the favourites, but we will work a lot.”

For Norway, it is also the third medal within 18 months, as they finished with the bronze at the Rio 2016 Games before defending their European title one year ago in Sweden. Now, Norway hope to win their fourth World Championship gold medal, to add to their impressive collection that also includes three silver and three bronze.

As Pineau highlighted, Norway’s experience in finals may prove a crucial ingredient in their favour – not to mention their incredible knock-out phase wins. After losing their last preliminary round match to Sweden, Norway recovered quickly and stampeded to the trophy match with a 31:23 win over Spain, a 34:17 victory against Olympic champions Russia, and a 32:23 result in the semi-final against The Netherlands. Considering Norway were knocked out of the 2016 Olympic Games by Russia (37:38 in extra time) and only beat The Netherlands by one in the EHF EURO 2016 final (30:29), these clear score lines show just how strong they are at Germany 2017. The defending champions look unstoppable at this point, but France are widely acknowledged for having the best defence in the world, so perhaps they will be the side to stop Norway’s fast attack.

 

Bronze-medal match: Sweden vs The Netherlands 14:30 local time

The Netherlands take the court for the three/four match hoping for their second consecutive World Championship medal, after claiming their first ever at the 2015 edition in Denmark, where they finished as runners-up. For Sweden, Sunday’s game represents the first opportunity to win a World Championship medal, as they have never reached the semi-final stage before.

Sweden’s record stands at two European championship medals – silver in 2010, and bronze in 2014, when they were led by The Netherlands coach Helle Thomsen. The Netherlands’ success is more recent, as they took their second international medal in December 2016 when they finished as runners-up behind Norway at the EHF EURO.

These recent results would seem to make The Netherlands the favourites to win the bronze medal, coupled with the fact that Thomsen knows the Sweden team very well as their former coach. However, as Sweden are the only team to have defeated Norway at Germany 2017, they appear a serious threat.