France claimed their second senior world title of the year on Sunday evening in a sold-out Barclaycard Arena, Hamburg, as they defeated Norway 23:21 in the 23rd IHF Women’s World Championship final. The victory for the women’s team comes after the men’s side beat Norway in the France 2017 trophy match in Paris in January. It is the nation’s third World Championship gold medal of the year as the men’s Youth team also won the Under 19 event in Georgia in August.
For the France women’s team, it is the third top-three finish at a major international tournament in 18 months, after they claimed their first Olympic medal (silver) in Rio de Janeiro last August, then bronze at the EHF EURO 2016 one year ago. The Women’s World Championship trophy is the second in France’s history, ending a 14-year wait after the first in 2003.
“I am very, very proud of my team. It’s an amazing feeling, finally after 14 years,” said France’s Allison Pineau after the match. “The legacy is finally changed.
“So many times we were so close – in 2009, in 2011, in Rio also, but this time we did it.
“It’s a great feeling to know that the men won against Norway in the final at home, and now we did the same.”
France vs Norway 23:21 (11:10)
After Norway made their way to the final with decisive wins in all their knock-out matches, including victories over 2016 Olympic champions Russia and 2015 runners-up The Netherlands, they appeared the heavy favourites ahead of Sunday’s encounter. Even France coach Olivier Krumbholz said Norway were the clear favourites for the title, but his team proved that defence is the key to winning matches as they kept the Scandinavian team’s lightning-quick attack under control through to the final seconds.
In the opening quarter of the match it seemed Norway’s experience in finals was going to be a decisive factor, as they only allowed France the first goal before taking control and pulling ahead to a three-goal lead. France initially had some trouble in attack, but when they settled into the match, they began to find gaps in the flexible 6-0 defence played by Norway. Norway went through no fewer than three goalkeepers during the game, with Katrine Lunde starting before Kari Aalvik Grimsbo came in toward the end of the first half, after which Silje Solberg took her place between the posts for a brief few minutes in the second period.
France’s defence was the key to their win, as they forced Norway’s fast back court to work very hard to find gaps – which they often could not. World Championship MVP Stine Oftedal showed her best skills working in cooperation with line player Kari Brattset, but France were still able to come back to level in the first period then take a one-goal lead into the break. The second half saw a level race to the final whistle, and it was France’s goalkeepers – Cleopatre Darleux for a short time, before Leynaud came back in – who helped their team’s superb defence keep Norway at bay.
Once again, 2009 World Handball Player of the Year Allison Pineau showed the value of her experience, as she scored several important goals as the clock ticked down. It was Pineau who struck in the 58th minute to give France a two-goal lead. Norway left back Veronica Kristiansen pulled Norway back within one with 65 seconds on the clock, but it was Alexandra Lacrabere who had the final say as she scored the goal that put her team’s final tally at 23, before Leynaud saved the final shot from the 2015 world and record European champions to win the match (IHF, 2017).