Norway qualify for maiden World Championship final

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27 January 2017

The Scandinavian team defeat Croatia in extra time to secure their first ever medal at a major international tournament and book a place in the final against France.

Norway claim the second place in the 25th IHF Men’s World Championship with a narrow victory against Croatia, decided in extra time after a tense 70 minutes dominated by strong defence. The final against France will be the first ever for the Scandinavian side, who have never ranked higher than their historic fourth-place finish at the EHF EURO 2016.

Semi-final: Croatia vs Norway 25:28 after extra-time (22:22 FT) (10:12 HT)

After Croatia’s Zlatko Horvat opened the match with a penalty in the second minute, it took another five minutes for the score board to change. Ivan Stevanovic saved a penalty off Sander Sagosen in the sixth minute, but his team had trouble against Norway’s defence and there were no goals on positional play from either side until Bjarte Myrhol added the Scandinavian side’s first in the ninth.

Both teams had to work hard against the other’s tough defence, though Croatia’s strong 5-1 with Domagoj Duvnjak in front backed by several successful blocks from Jakov Gojun and Zeljko Musa was initially more difficult for Norway to beat. 10 minutes into the game the Scandinavian team were down by two at 1:3, and midway through the half the same distance remained as Espen Lie Hansen put the score at 4:6.

Apart from Stevanovic’s penalty save and two for Norway keeper Torbjorn Bergerud, there were no saves in the first quarter of the match, and Norway were able to close in. When Lie Hansen tallied his second on a counter attack in the 17th, he levelled the score at 6:6 and as the clock hit 20 minutes the game stayed equal at 8:8.

Norway opened a two-goal advantage in the next three minutes, and though Croatia goalkeeper Ivan Pesic saved a penalty, their opponents had claimed the momentum, pulling ahead to 11:8 with Bjornsen’s fourth goal. Babic was forced to call what was already his second time-out as his team had not scored for seven minutes, but at half-time the two-goal distance remained.

Croatia were quick to decrease the deficit when the match resumed, with Luka Stepancic equalising at 13:13. From there it was a one-for-one game played at a furious pace until Duvnjak took Croatia two in front to 18:16 just before the last quarter. Norway were not done however – five minutes later Sagosen levelled the score and a tense last 10 minutes began.

Babic called his third and final time-out with his team holding the edge at 22:21 just inside the last four minutes, and the stadium – full of mostly Croatian supporters – were on their feet to support their team through the dying minutes. Norway entered the last minute with possession and the score unchanged – and Sagosen equalised off an outside shot.

Croatia received a penalty seconds before the final buzzer, but Bergerud was the hero for the Scandinavian team as he saved Horvat’s shot and sent the game into extra-time. In extra-time the teams could not be separated, though Norway held a crucial edge as the end of the 10-minute period approached.

The turning point came after Eivind Tangen took Norway in front to 26:25. Luka Stepancic received his third two-minute suspension and with it a red card, and Kent Robin Tonnesen followed by successfully converting the penalty. Croatia missed the shot on their next attack, opening the gate for Norway captain Bjarte Myrhol to respond with the winning goal – a perfect way to end a six from six performance in what was his 200th international.

Best Player of the Match presented by adidas: Torbjorn BERGERUD (NOR)

Photo: S. Pillaud / IHF