Norway and Russia going for goldArticle
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European women’s top teams hunted by Korea and Brazil at the London Olympic Games

Norway and Russia going for gold

Nine European women’s teams are part of the handball tournament at the 2012 Olympic Games – and most of them aim for a medal in London. All observers qualify Norway as the big favourite and expect them to defend their 2008 title, won in Beijing.

Though Norway have to replace top stars like Gro Hammerseng, Tonje Larssen or Nora Mork, due to injuries or maternity leave, the team of coach Thorir Hergeirsson is taking the favoured role – especially after their great results in the last test matches with clear victories against Sweden, France and Denmark.

Norway is, after Denmark in 1996, the second team holding all major titles at the same time: In 2008 they became Olympic champions for the first time. In 2008 and 2010 they won their third and fourth consecutive title at the EHF EURO and 2011 they celebrated their second ever world championship title. The team of the Icelandic coach Thorir Hergeirsson can count on top goalkeepers like Katrine Lunde Haraldsen and has the current and one former World Handball Player in their squad, Heidi Löke (2011) and Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth (2009).

The strength of the Norwegians is to start their great counter attacks out of an extremely strong and flexible defence.  However in view of their current performance, Norway do not want to be the favourite: “Russia is going for gold, we will have to see what we are able to do,” coach Hergeirsson said before leaving for London.

The Russians, four times world champion (2001, 2005, 2007, 2009), but never EHF EURO champion want to take revenge for the bitter final defeat in Beijing, when they were beaten by Norway. Coach Evgeny Trefilov has a big pool of highly talented players - but Russia showed a weak performance at the 2011 world championship where they ended up settling for sixth place. Their real star is the team which focuses on a strong defence and have several striking options in attack, led by playmaker Liudmila Postnova, efficient counter attacks, tall back court shooters or brave fighting line players.

The main European contenders of those top favourites are France (silver medallist at the 2011 World Championship), since top star Allison Pineau is back on track after a long-term injury, and Spain (bronze medallist in Brazil). But in London, two non-European teams want to make it to the semis too: Korea, the dark horse in London, won six Olympic medals at seven appearances. Despite their physical disadvantages the Asian champions were able to cope with the Europeans in Beijing, taking bronze. Korea was the gold medallist in 1988 and 1992.

Besides, Brazil want to play a major role in London. 13 of their 14 players come from European top clubs, including seven players from Hypo Niederösterreich. Due to this international experience and taking a boost of confidence from their fifth place at the home matches at the past World Championship, they dream of a medal.

The groups in the Preliminary Round are completely different: Whilst Russia will have a quite easy first stage except for the top match against Montenegro in Group A, Group B is a real tough one, with all 2011 World Championship semi-finalists Norway, Denmark, France and Spain. Additionally Korea is fighting to finish among the top four, which proceed to the quarter-finals. And let us not forget Sweden, the silver medallist of the 2010 EHF EURO.

A huge number of the players nominated play for WOMEN’S EHF Champions League clubs: Top club concerning the number of players involved in Olympics is current Champions League winner Buducnost Podgorica (Montenegro) with 13 players in London. Runners-up of this ranking is SD Itxako (Spain) with nine players, followed by Lada Togliatti (Russia/8), Hypo Niederösterreich (Austria/7) and Podravka Koprivnica (6).

Groups of the preliminary round

Group A: Montenegro, Russia, Croatia, Great Britain, Angola, Brazil

Group B: Norway, Spain, Denmark, France, Sweden, Korea

TEXT: Björn Pazen