Nora Mørk leads Norway to women's Euro 2020 crown

Old hands and fresh faces helped Norway dethrone reigning champions France in Herning and claim an eighth European title.

By Ken Browne

Norway are European women's handball champions once more thanks to a 22-20 win over France in Herning, Denmark on Sunday.

It was Norway's eighth title in the last 12 editions of the tournament.

This clash of handball heavyweights, both teams unbeaten coming into the final went the Norwegians way, they lead 14-10 at half-time after two unanswered scoring runs of 4:0 and 5:0, then withstood a late French surge to see it out.

Despite their physical strength, Rio 2016 silver medallists France could not counter Norway's superior speed and dizzying movement.

The Norwegians punished repeated two-minute penalties in the first half, and a third for French star Grace Zaadi Deuna late in the second half proved devastating.

Captain Stine Oftedal and Nora Mørk led the way with winger Camilla Herrem, a survivor from Norway's gold at London 2012, at her clinical best, and Silje Solberg performing heroics in goal.

The margins stayed tight with France keeping within one or two goals of their opponents for much of the second half.

France's Siraba Dembele Pavlovic netted crucial goals and 'keeper Cleopatre Darleux put in a 'Player of the Match' performance, and they went in front 19-18 late on.

But the Norwegian stars delivered when it counted most and two late Mørk goals ended French hopes of retaining their title.

This was a repeat of the 2017 World Championship final and Norway exacted revenge for their defeat in Hamburg.

The Tournament MVP award went to France's Estelle Nze-Minko for her stellar performances in Denmark.

The Nora Mørk redemption

On Friday after Norway's semi-final victory over Denmark, Norwegian superstar Mørk was in tears.

"After tearing both cruciate ligaments in less than two years, nobody trusted me and I was the only one who did because I knew that one day I would come back,” she said.

Mork, who many said should retire and that her body couldn't take it any more after nine knee surgeries ended Euro 2020 as top scorer on 52 goals with 74% efficiency.

And when France led with six minutes to go, it was Mørk who had the self-belief to step up, scoring yet another top-corner screamer with that lethal left hand of hers.

The match ended with Norway's comeback queen at the penalty line and, despite a rare miss, the job had already been completed with her goals pivotal to her team making the top of the podium.

Norway coach Thorir Hergeirsson said, "All the players had the hunger to win the tournament and they have really outdone themselves. We showed team spirit and focus. It's one of the best wins we've ever had.”

At Beijing 2008 and in London four years later, Norway won Olympic gold as the reigning European champions.

Don't bet against them doing the same at Tokyo 2020.

The future looks bright for France

French coach Olivier Krumbholz was focussing on the positives post-match: 

“It is a disappointment, but not a big one, because we won the silver medal and I am very proud. Our first half was bad in attack, bad in defence, but after we changed the defence in the second half, everything looked perfect."

"The players were mentally strong and I think the future looks bright for us, as we have a lot of young players who can get better. We had some trouble in our shooting, we missed a lot of shots and it is nearly impossible to beat Norway with such a low efficiency."

When you look at the likes of 19-year-old Pauletta Foppa, the youngest player on the court, who lead all scorers in the final with five goals, you can understand the optimism.

Look out for the Rio runners-up to step it up again come Tokyo.

Croatia's 'Queens of Shock' down Denmark

Few gave Croatia much of a chance coming into this tournament, but they defied the odds by beating hosts Denmark 25-19 to claim their first ever medal at a major tournament.

The underdogs were a joy to watch, playing a free-flowing handball full of fun and unforgettable moments.

The teams were all square 10 minutes into the second half of the third-place playoff, but Denmark ran out of gas and scored just one more goal in the final 20.

Denmark had their hearts set on a first EURO medal since 2004, but Croatia won a deserved bronze and celebrated wildly at the final buzzer.

There was nothing normal about this tournament with no spectators, and the Croatian women made the best of it, they could be heard singing and laughing as they cut out Christmas tree decorations in their hotel bubble.

Loose and loving it from start to finish in Denmark, they even came out to receive their medals with tiaras fit for queens.

Don't write Russia off

Russia may not have made the semi-finals but showed enough to prove that they're far from a spent force.

The reigning Olympic champions were devastated by injuries pre-tournament, losing Anna Sen and Anna Vyakhireva before exciting 19-year-old rising star Elena Mikhaylichencko tore her cruciate knee ligament.

But Russia still managed to start the tournament strongly with consecutive wins against against Spain, Czech Republic and Sweden.

Vladlena Bobrovnikova (33) and Daria Dmitrieva stepped up and Russia lost just once all tournament - after drawing with France in the main round they fell to a defensively strong Denmark in their final match.

The defeat cost Russia a sport in the semi-finals and Spanish coach Ambros Martin his job, but if key players return before Tokyo then they can make a robust defence of their Olympic title.


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