December 17, 2017 – the final of the World Championship in Germany: France versus Norway. The last time the EHF EURO 2020 finalists met in an official match.
With 22 seconds left on the clock, Alexandra Lacrabère pulls France two goals in front. Norway move into attack and captain Stine Oftedal takes the shot with 11 seconds left. Amandine Leynaud saves and France start to celebrate their second world title.
The exciting final rarely saw a difference bigger than one goal and represented Norway’s first loss in a trophy match since they were defeated by Montenegro in extra time at the EHF EURO 2012. Since then, they have been waiting to return to the top.
There is little difference between the squads that will play the final on Sunday at the EHF EURO 2020, which will be the fourth trophy match between France and Norway. The most notable change is Allison Pineau’s absence for France, due to a broken nose. Pineau was key in the last minutes of both the final and the semi-final at the World Championship 2017.
Both teams have welcomed some new talents, but the core and the leading stars largely remain the same. Norway also have one of their key weapons back, who was critical in 2017 as well: Nora Mørk. The World Championship 2017 was the last major event during which Mørk was part of the Norway squad until this EURO, due to a period of injury.
Just as she is as we look to the final day at the EHF EURO 2020, Mørk was the top scorer at the World Championship 2017, as well as being named the All-star Team right back.
Another four members of the World Championship 2017 All-star Team will feature in the final on Sunday: from Norway, Stine Oftedal was the MVP and Katrine Lunde was best goalkeeper; from France, Grace Zaadi Deuna was the All-star centre back and Siraba Dembélé Pavlovic was the left wing.
Fond memories of finals against Norway for Krumbholz
Both coaches also remain the same. Not only will it be France’s fourth final in history against Norway, it will be coach Olivier Krumbholz’s fourth time aiming to steer France to victory against the record EURO champions. It will be Krumbholz’s third final against Thorir Hergeirsson.
“We train together. We play together. We work together. We know [each other] so well. If we have test matches, we always want to play against Norway,” says Krumbholz.
All the previous final encounters between the sides took place at World Championships. That first final between the sides took place in 1999, at the World Championship held, coincidentally, in Norway and Denmark. At that point, Norway were coached by legendary Marit Breivik. Two periods of extra time were needed to decide the winner, with Norway taking a 25:24 win in the end.
The second mutual final came 12 years later, after Hergeirsson became Norway coach in 2009. The World Championship 2011 final was far more decisive in favour of Norway, 32:24. Interestingly, Krumbholz highlights Pineau’s absence as a key factor that detracted from France’s performance in 2011.
“1999 was simply excellent. We played in Norway, had two extra times, and even though we lost, it was a great experience. In 2011, we did not have the chance, as two important back court players were out, including Allison Pineau,” says the French coach. “In 2017, no one expected us to win. It was the first time ever in a competitive match, when we beat Norway. So, a really great memory.”
Oftedal a key for France to stop
Will Pineau’s absence be critical once again? The 2009 IHF World Player of the Year was certainly important to the 2017 result in France’s favour, scoring the two goals that opened France’s initial lead in the last seven minutes of the final before Lacrabère sealed the deal. Pineau was also the goal scorer that took France from one behind to one in front in the last five minutes of the semi-final against Sweden at that event, with two consecutive goals in crunch time.
However, the remainder of France’s players have gained greater experience since the world title win in 2017, so despite the similarities, it is obviously a new day and a new match – and Pineau’s absence does not seem to leave the hole it might have done in the past. The likes of Estelle Nze Minko, Orlane Kanor and Kalidiatou Niakate have cemented their place as top-class players further, while more recent additions such as Méline Nocandy and Océane Sercien Ugolin have deservedly caught attention.
On Norway’s side, the same applies regarding increased experience at the top level and exciting new players – especially considering several members of the squad are on court together regularly at clubs like Vipers and Györ.
“They always play on the best level. They have excellent players. They have Stine Oftedal – the best in the world when it comes to one-against-one actions. She is the key player we have to stop,” says Krumbholz.
“A fun fight to play against each other”
Players such as Oftedal, Veronica Kristiansen and Kari Brattset Dale have become increasingly stronger individually but also as a unit from being on court together for the EHF Champions League title holders Györ, which can only further their connection in the national team.
But it is not only they who play at Györ – Nze Minko, Béatrice Edwige and Leynaud are also with the Hungarian powerhouse.
“We’ve been playing with each other, but we also have this player way to think, so that will be a fun fight to play against each other. They know us. We know them. There is a lot of information to share,” says Nze Minko.
In the end, the situation ahead of the EHF EURO 2020 final looks very similar to the World Championship 2017 final – with the exception that the players as individuals have become stronger, the core units have more experience together and there is also increased knowledge of the other side due to the club circumstances.
And what does that mean? That we can surely expect a final very worthy of the exciting history that already exists between France and Norway – perhaps the highest-level one yet.