Only five teams have taken part in every one of the 14 EHF EURO tournaments, but none has ever been so successful as Norway.
The Nordic team have won the title seven times, more than the other 24 teams to have featured have won between them.
With several golden generations and featuring the only players to ever win the gold medal at the EHF EURO five times – Karoline Dyhre Breivang, Linn Kristin Riegelhuth-Koren and Kari Aalvik Grimsbø – Norway hold virtually all the records in the tournament.
They will also become the first team to hit a special milestone this week when they play their 100th game in the competition on Saturday, facing Germany in the Sydbank Arena in Kolding.
“I really did not know that we played so many games in the tournament, but it is nice to hit that milestone. We are ready not only for this game, but for all the others at the EHF EURO 2020,” says line player Heidi Løke.
Denmark (91 games), Hungary (89 games), Russia (88 games) and Germany (84 games) are the next teams in line to hit the milestone, but all four sides will have to wait at least two years to follow in Norway’s footsteps.
“This tells everybody about Norway, the history of Norwegian handball and how successful we have been over the years. We are always proud to represent the country here and it is nice to be part of this handball family,” says coach Thorir Hergeirsson, himself the longest serving coach in the competition.
Hergeirsson took over the Norwegian women’s national team in April 2009, and leads Norway for the sixth time at the EHF EURO.
The 56-year old coach has 40 games in the competition under his belt, losing only six of them. He has won three gold medals and a silver and has never placed lower than fifth in the European championship.
Yet for Hergeirsson, Saturday’s game in Group D against Germany will be business as usual.
“We are only focusing on the game at hand. It is a normal game for us in the EHF EURO, against a strong opponent and we will try to win it,” adds Hergeirsson.
“One of the top 3 teams in history”
From the current side, left wing Camilla Herrem (44 games) and line players Marit Malm Frafjord (41 games) and Løke (39 games) have played the most EHF EURO games, but another Norwegian players holds the record for most appearances in the tournament.
Five-time winner Karoline Dyhre Breivang played 52 games, or 52.5 per cent of all of Norway’s games in the history of the European championship. The playmaker retired in 2015, but is still close to the Norwegian national team, which she follows regularly.
“My first EHF EURO was in Romania and Hungary, in 2000 and it was an amazing experience to play in a full arena against Romania,” says Breivang.
Success comes in different forms, but for Norway it has always been the same recipe: team spirit, fast handball and an unstoppable attack.
“I am proud to be the most-capped player in the history of the EHF EURO, because this is the pinnacle of handball and many good players have come and gone in this tournament. To be honest, it is a bit crazy to have the most appearances,” adds the 40-year old Norwegian.
Norway have failed to finish on the podium of the EHF EURO only twice, in 2000, when they were sixth, and two years ago, when two losses in the group phase against Romania and Germany basically barred their way into the final weekend.
These stats beg the question: are Norway the best team to ever play handball?
“I think we are one of the top three teams in history. Playing eight EHF EURO finals in a row makes us hard to overlook. However, Denmark had a golden generation between 1996 and 2004, Russia were also very strong and had good results,” says Breivang.
Løke, her former teammate between 2006 and 2015, when they won three European championships together, agrees.
“We are one of the best and we just hope to continue our legacy in the next years,” said the All-Star line player at the EHF EURO in 2010, 2012 and 2014.
Norwegian success in Denmark?
Fresh from their disappointing outing two years ago, when they finished fifth, Norway threw off the tournament in style, with a commanding 35:22 win against Poland.
Germany and Romania, coincidentally the teams that won against Norway two years ago, are next in line. But can the Nordic side go all the way?
“EHF EURO is a tough tournament, because there are no easy games. Right now, we have very good players who can progress to the final. And anything can happen,” says Breivang.
Another win would mean that players like Katrine Lunde, Marit Malm Frafjord and Camilla Herrem would tie Breivang, Riegelhuth-Koren and Grimsbø as the most decorated in the history of the EHF EURO.
“If they do tie us, it will be superb. That means that Norway will win the trophy once again. An that would be great for us, few years have passed without a big win,” smiles Breivang.