Norway face tough competition at World ChampionshipArticle
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PREVIEW: Defending champions Norway are after their fourth world title but France, the Netherlands, Russia and hosts Germany are among the teams that could make life difficult for the Scandinavians

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Norway face tough competition at World Championship

Hosts Germany are hoping for a solid victory when they take on Cameroon in the opening match of the 23rd Women’s IHF World Championship on Friday (1 December).

The following day, all other medal contenders will take the court as well (match schedule), most notably defending champions Norway.

The preliminary round will be played in four different venues – Trier, Bietigheim-Bissingen, Oldenburg and Leipzig – and last until 8 December.

Norway will get their title defence underway in would could be a tight opener against Hungary. Their Group B also includes Sweden, Czech Republic, Argentina and Poland, who were awarded a wild card by the IHF after Oceania decided not to send a team to Germany.

In the 10 World Championships since the start of the 24-nation format in 1997, Norway have appeared in six finals and won three of them.

If they lift the trophy again after the final in Hamburg on 17 December, the Scandinavians will be the first nation to successfully defend the title since Russia won it three times in a row between 2005 and 2009.

Also, a tournament win would see Norway match Russia’s record four world titles.

Dark horse Russia

Coach Thorir Hergeirsson has a deep squad at his disposal. Experienced stars like Nora Mørk, Stine Oftedal , Heidi Løke, Camilla Herrem and Kari Aalvik Grimsbø team up with hungry young talents, including four debutants.

Having won the world title in 2015 as well as the EHF EURO in 2014 and again in 2016, it is hard to see past Norway as the main gold favourites in Germany.

The last team to keep them out of a major final were Russia, who edged Norway in the semi-finals of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics.

Russia went on to win Olympic gold, but they failed to get past the main round of the EHF EURO in Sweden few months later.

Also, Russia have not made  it to the semi-finals of the World Championships again after winning their fourth title in 2009. They face Denmark, Brazil (the last non-European world champions, in 2013), Montenegro, Japan and Tunisia in Group C of the preliminary round.

Hunters in the starting blocks

France lost that Olympic final last year but, contrary to Russia, added another strong result at the EHF EURO 2016, where they placed third.

Led by coach Olivier Krumbholz, the 2003 world champions will throw off against Paraguay on Saturday and also face Romania, Spain, Slovenia and Angola in Group A.

Among Norway’s main hunters will again be the Netherlands, for whom the Scandinavian team are almost becoming a nightmare.

In the past two years, the Dutch women have lost the final of the World Championship, the bronze medal match at the Olympics, and the final of the EHF EURO – and each time Norway were their opponents.

Apart from having to replace pregnant back court player Maura Visser, coach Helle Thomsen has hardly made changes to the Dutch squad that won silver in Sweden last year.

‘Oranje’ will start against South Korea, which sensationally won the world title in 1995 and added a bronze medal eight years later. Their Group D also features Germany, Serbia, China and Cameroon.

In 1997, the last time the World Championships were held in Germany, the hosts took bronze. Germany repeated that feat in 2007 in France. If they keep that 10-year cycle going, the team around goalkeeper Clara Woltering and centre back Anna Loerper could be set to make it to the business end of the tournament again.

Coach Michael Biegler has been working towards this tournament since early 2016, and the German fans would love to see their favourites deliver on home court.

TEXT: Eric Willemsen / ts