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Semi-final preview: A special re-match, a debutant and a smiling coach

More than 11,000 fans in the sold-out Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, a huge media interest all around the globe and the top of the tops are the setting for the final weekend of the 23rd Women’s World Championship. The two semi-finals on Friday each combine three of four semi-finalists of the 2016 Olympic Games and the 2016 European Championship: First Norway and Netherlands face in the re-match of the 2015 World and 2016 EURO final, then France lock horns with semi-final debutants Sweden.

17:30: Norway vs Netherlands

The last three times, both sides clashed in crucial match, Norway were the victors: First the team of Icelandic born coach Thorir Hergeirsson won the 2015 final of the World Championship in Herning, Denmark, then the bronze final of the Rio Olympic Games And finally (and highly close) the 2016 EURO final in Gothenburg. Sweden.

But neither Hergeirsson nor Danish born Dutch coach Helle Thomsen look back on those matches, but ahead: “This is history, tomorrow we will see a new match,” said Hergeirsson in the press conference at Hamburg on Thursday.

While Norway had demolished Russia in a more than comprehensive way in the quarter-final, the Dutch side took a closer win against the Czechs. “We are happy to be here. We have not played our best handball so far, but there is room for improvement. Tomorrow speed and goalkeepers can be a key to success,” said Thomsen.

Besides, she praised the defending world and EURO champion: “Norway are constantly playing on a high, so everybody must give her best to have a chance. Norway are strong not only because of the team, but also the team behind the team might be the best in the world. We have respect, but tomorrow is a new game.”

Both sides each have lost one game so, as the Dutch side was beaten by Korea in the preliminary, while Norway were defeated by semi-finalists Sweden. That’s all history now. “Yesterday’s match against Russia was one of the best performance of my team, mainly in defence. In attack, we can do it better. In general, yesterday’s game is without meaning, we must go for the new game,” said Hergeirsson.

In his opinion, Netherlands are the best in terms of speed in attack, and: “They have been growing year by year. Especially after the Olympics, they have made a good development. Netherlands can win it but also we can be the winner.”


20:45: Sweden vs France

For the fifth time, France made it to the semi-final of a Women’s World Championship, including winning the trophy in 2003, while Sweden are debutants in this stage of the event. Sweden so far were the only side to beat Norway at Germany 2017. In the knock-out stage, the Scandinavians had beaten Slovenia and Denmark, while France left Hungary and Montenegro behind.

For Swedish coach Henrik Signell, “the pressure is on France, as they are the favourites with a strong attack and the best defence in the world”, but his counterpart Olivier Krumbholz only smiled about this theory: “The chances at a start of every match are 50:50,” the French coach replied.

Signell counts on the constant improvement of his players, as a team: “They are getting better and better this year. We could work almost with the same players, they had luck not to get injured. We work not to be 16 individuals, but one team.” In 2010, Sweden had been European runners-up, in 2014, they took the bronze medal on continental stage.

“We do not feel the pressure and we are just proud to be here,” said Krumbholz: “We work since two years on mental part, too, but the most important thing is that everything like physical, psychological and individual skills, mood are getting well together.” And in terms of the keys to success: “Defence is a good factor for us, but Sweden has a strong defence, too. They are getting better and better which makes the game difficult for us. Both sides have the same chances to win.”