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Solberg: "Defence will decide the final, not the goalkeepers"

FEATURE: Silje Solberg may see the start of Sunday's EHF EURO Final only from the Norwegian bench, but she is always ready to step up

Photo: Stephane Pillaud

On Friday after the semi-final between Norway and France, Norwegian goalkeeper Silje Solberg was awarded player of the match for the third time at the EHF EURO 2016.

With 13 saves and a staggering 59 per cent saving ratio, the 26-year-old goalkeeper, who plays her club handball for TTH Holstebro in Denmark, had a lion's share in Norway's 20:16 win against France.

It was a victory in which Norway beat their opponents with their own strongest weapon – an impenetrable defence.

Although Solberg's more experienced teammate Kari Aalvik Grimsbo is more likely to start in goal in the final against the Netherlands on Sunday, Solberg has already proven more than enough that whenever she is needed, she is ready to step up.

"France were really good and we hade big problems to score. In the last ten minutes, however, we showed our mental strength.

“We have been in these situations before, we never stopped believing in ourselves and that was maybe the reason why we won,” said Solberg at a media call on Saturday.

One of her most crucial saves in the game against France came in the 56th minute when the score stood at 18:16 for Norway and she saved a penalty by Manon Houette.

"I almost felt sick and was nervous the entire match. That's a bad thing actually. But I managed to keep calm when the balls came.

“Maybe it was my best match in the national team and this was in the most important game," said Solberg, who has already racked up 63 saves including five saved penalties and currently ranks first among all goalkeepers at the tournament with a 43 per cent saving ratio.

"The response of the fans was absolutely amazing. I have received loads of messages and I'm so glad I managed to put up such a good performance."

“It won't be as easy as last year”

While in the semi-final Norway faced a very defence orientated French side, it will be the exact opposite the gold medal match as they take on Netherlands, who have impressed at Sweden 2016 so far their fast attacking display.

"There will be certainly more shots for us in the Norwegian goal and their play will be very fast. It will also be important that we stay disciplined and don't give them easy balls for their counter attacks," Solberg said.

Norway crushed the Netherlands in their last two encounters at major tournaments as they beat them 31:23 in last year's World Championship Final in Denmark and again in August, 36:26 in the bronze medal match of the Rio Olympics.

"It won't be that easy as it was last year in the World Championship Final. They are stronger now and they have much more experience than they had one year ago.

“Last year Kari (Aalbik Grimsbo, goalkeeper) provided us with several good saves and closed the game for them. We will really have to play a perfect defence and hopefully we will be able to run with them," added Solberg.

"Their coach Helle Thomsen is really good at tactics and she is watching so many handball videos that we could call her a little handball nerd. I think, that's really good for the Dutch team."

And while Solberg was stunning in Norway's semi-final, her Dutch counterpart, goalkeeper Tess Wester, ruled the court in game between Netherlands and Denmark – but Solberg does emphasise this fact.

“It won't be about me or Tess or about other goalkeepers. It will be about the best defence. The team with the better defence will give their goalkeepers some easier saves and with it also some confidence to face the harder shots as well. So defence will decide."

written by Vlado Brindzak / ts