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Huge experience versus the hunger of debutants

PREVIEW: Norway aim for their seventh EHF EURO title on Sunday, while Netherlands want to take revenge for the World Championship 2015 Final and the 2016 Olympic Games bronze-medal match

Photo: Uros Hocevar

When the gold medal match of the EHF EURO 2016 throws off on Sunday at 18:00 in Scandinavium Arena, it seems like it will be a routine for Norway, as the defending champions are part of a EURO final for the tenth time. On the other hand, their opponents for the final in Gothenburg, the Netherlands, are debutants.

It is the match of the two best EHF EURO 2016 teams: Norway have the maximum of 14 points from seven matches, while Netherlands only lost their opener against Germany and then took six straight wins – their longest run of wins ever in EURO history.

Sunday’s pairing is the re-match of the World Championship 2015 Final in Herning, Denmark, when Norway had decided the encounter early with a 20:9 lead at the break. They took their third world title after 1999 and 2011 with a 31:23 win, while it was the first senior medal in handball ever for the Dutch Handball Federation. Nine months later, these powerhouses of women’s handball clashed again in a medal match – this time playing for bronze at the Olympic Games in Rio. Again, Norway took the victory and the medals with a 36:26 victory.

“We did not win that often against them, so the time has hopefully come,” says Dutch back Laura van der Heijden, with her teammate Debbit Bont adding: “But I guess Norway will be sharp as a needle from the first minute again.”

Despite playing their 10th EURO final, Norway do not want to take the role of favourites despite the overall statistic of six wins, one draw and two defeats – with the last Dutch win in an official match dating back to 1999. “It is a 50:50 match,” says Norway’s top scorer Nora Mork, who was also top scorer in the 20:16 semi-final win against France on Friday.

“Netherlands clearly have improved since we beat them last year – they have matured, they run a lot,” adds Mork, but also clearly underlines the ambitions of the defending champions: “Every year, when we arrive at a tournament, we dream to finish on the winners’ podium. But definitely it is not a routine.”

Norway have not missed a EURO final since 2002, and funnily enough they took their first ever trophy in the competition in the Netherlands, when they beat Denmark in Rotterdam in 1998. Goalkeeper Kari Aalvik Grimsbo can become the shining star on Sunday, as she has won five European Championship trophies since 2004 and can be the first handball player ever to take a fifth EURO title.

Thorir Hergeirsson has steered the Norwegians to two titles, and he can make a piece of special history on Sunday: Coaches from the same country have never steered male and female teams to EURO titles in the same year. After Dagur Sigurdsson led Germany to the trophy in Poland in January, Hergeirsson is the second Icelandic with the chance to do so.

“We are not that many people in Iceland, but we are crazy for team sports. And we know how to form a team and to give anybody a role in the team. Maybe this is why we have so many successful coaches,” says Hergeirsson.

On the other bench, Helle Thomsen will coach her first ever EURO final – and is the first Danish-born coach in a final at the competition since Jan Pytlick in 2004. Two years ago, she guided Sweden to the EURO Semi-final in Budapest, where she lost against Hergeirsson and his Norwegians.

The Dutch players are not so keen on those facts: “We don’t care about history, we look to the future,” says Laura van der Heijden.

written by Bjorn Pazen / cg