If it’s all getting a bit predictable it’s also getting a bit more impressive each time. Norway will once again contest a major final as favourites and this time they do so having destroyed Hungary with one of the most dominant performances they will ever have produced against quality opposition. Midway through the first half of their semi final they overturned a 10:7 deficit with a 9:2 run of scoring and then utterly controlled the second half. They could rotate the bench, showboat in attack and when Katrine Lunde Haraldsen took a whack in the face in the act of saving (one of 11 saves she made) they could relax in the knowledge that she could leave the court unworried. Anja Edin was strong in both attack and defence and Heidi Loke looked like the world’s greatest player but, terrifyingly, neither of them looked head and shoulders above their colleagues, quality-wise.I’d backed Norway to win by 2. They won by 11.
The other semi final, on the other hand, was a copper-bottomed classic as neighbours and former sharers of a sole identity Serbia and Montenegro did battle. It was a tough match with plenty of bite, especially on the fringes of the D but it was also a game whose outcome was never certain until the end.
Serbia led 14:13 at the break and with a bit of luck and concentration would have had a greater advantage. They had themselves come back from 9:5 down. The bullets fired by Biljana Filipovic inspiring yet another great team performance. Montenegro dug deep, played the refs to the limit and produced some smart shooting of their own – Milana Kzenevic finishing with 9 goals. In the end the team with greater depth pulled away and just held on.
In today’s final the crowd won’t be an issue and but on head to head Norway look just too strong. A Montenegro victory would be a beautiful result but they will need to work the refs effectively and shut down Norway in every aspect of the game – and do that for 60 minutes. Norway can always go to Plan B, then C, D and E as required. The bookies have Norway at 9/20 to win … but for all I think Norway should win if I were to place a bet I might be tempted to go for Montenegro.
My prediction, for what it’s worth, is Norway by 2. The match starts at 3pm (UK) – live on YouTube with commentary from the always excellent Paul Bray.
Courtesy of Digisport Romania on YouTube
In a final that was refreshing for being competitive from start to finish and in which the result wasn’t clear until the end Denmark emerged victorious by edging out Russia 27:26. The winning goal officially timed at 30:00 in the second half.
The Danes owned a 15:12 advantage at half time but were pegged back before Russia looked like the most likely to open up a decisive break. The Russians led 22:20 at one point before Denmark levelled at 24:24 and a nervous series of attacks in the final ten minutes saw neither side able to assert themselves.
With thirty seconds left the scores were tied and Russia had the ball – but after a steady build-up their shot went wide and a ludicrous fast break from Denmark saw Freja Kyndbal somehow score whilst the Russian defence tried everything to stop her. There was no time left for a response: cue celebrations for the team in red; despondency for the team in blue. Anne mett Hansen was player of the match with 8 goals from 12 shots.
It’s the second title at this level for the Danes. Norway take the bronze after a 36:30 win over Romania. The hosts will be pretty disappointed to wind up finishing 11th. And for the record the tournament’s top scorer was Aleksandrova Irina of Kazakhstan who powered in 62 goals.
If you want to relive any of the final, it’s here.
After two surprisingly straightforward semi finals the hope is that Russia and Denmark are closely enough matched (they are both unbeaten in the tournament) that the final should be a classic.
Denmark were four up against Romania by the break before running out eventual winners 39:28. Mette Tranborg top-scored for the Danes with 9 goals.
In the other match Russia took over the match after early exchanges of goals. By half time they led by 6 and despite Norway occasionally looking like they might pull it back they never got close enough to really trouble the Russians. The final score was 33:27.
The final will be available here and starts at 5.15pm UK. The bronze medal match is at 3pm UK.
In a match whose finale was broadcast live on BBC 1 France emerged victorious over Sweden. The Swedes were tenacious but ultimately were always chasing the game. They played well above expectations in even reaching the final but the defeat does represent the fourth time they’ve finished second in the Olympics whereas France joined the Norwegian women in retaining their Beijing title.
The decisive section of the match came after twenty minutes when France turned a 7-7 tied game into a 10-7 advantage that Sweden were never able to pull back despite the best efforts of Niclas Ekberg (6/8) who presumably did his search for a club after the collapse of AG København no harm at all. The French enjoyed most of the support of the Basketball Arena and there were suitably insane scenes after the final whistle went.
Later, according to YouTube, the French dismantled the L’Equipe TV set live on air. You can do that sort of thing if you’re Olympic champions.
So it has come down to this. Where once were twelve, now there are two. Today’s final in the incongruously-named Basketball Arena will be between two sides who played in their semi finals as if it were their destiny to be in gold medal game. There the similarity ends because France are current Olympic and World champions and Sweden have not won a major title in a decade.
Defence, in particular goalkeeping, won the day in the both semi finals: Mattais Andersson stopped 13 shots as Sweden blocked Hungary but Thierry Omeyer topped that by saving 19 of 41 shots against Croatia. He was particularly effective in the opening ten minutes as France built a comfortable lead that meant that the Croats were always chasing the game.
Despite the similarities in the building blocks of their semi final victories it is hard to see past France who will surely have too many weapons for Sweden. For Sweden to win they will need Omeyer to have an off day, they will need somehow to get a steady flow of fast breaks (they had 6 against Hungary, scoring 4; France allowed Croatia only one) and they will also need to up their solidity at the back. France are not Hungary, they will be harder to tempt into rushing their game. France can also spread their scoring personnel more broadly than Sweden.
But this is a final and strange things happen in finals. That said, something beyond strange will need to happen for France to lose and so my prediction is that France will hit the front early and stay there, winning by 4.
Norway v Montenegro, 8.30pm (BBC Olympics 6, Sky Channel 455 and online)
It’s the day of reckoning for Norway and Montenegro: the prize-winning veterans and the newest nation and the block. Norway are, as the commentators never tire of saying, the current Olympic, World and European champions. Montenegro, on the other hand, are not.
Montenegro finished 11th in last year’s World Championship, losing 28-27 to Norway in the group stages. Nor have they troubled the medals in their two European championship appearances. That said. all but three of their team play for Budućnost who just so happen to have won the EHF Champions League in 2012, knocking out the Norwegian giants Larvik on the way. It goes without saying that for Montenegro to be in with a shout they will need Bojana Popovic (playing her final match before retirement) to be at the top of her game, controlling the attacks, and for Katarina Bulatovic to get opportunities to bullet in her 7m shots. The defence we can expect to be physical.
Norway haven’t really looked like champions so far. They qualified fourth out of their group and then had to overturn a half-time deficit to see off Brazil in the quarter finals. The Koreans who they beat by 6 in the semi final were plagued by injuries. But they are in the final and the title is theirs to defend. If Montenegro need to rely on their steady build-ups and cool heads Norway will surely need to get their ridiculously effective fast-breaks to work (8/10 saw off Brazil, against Korea it was a mere 2/3). With that weapon they may stun Montenegro into hurrying their otherwise methodical game. A repeat of Katrine Haraldsen’s 52% save percentage probably wouldn’t go amiss either.
Google Translate has a Montenegrin newspaper describing their team’s appearance in the final as being the most significant achievement in their country’s short history; when Norway won the World Championship in 2011 it broke television viewing records. This game matters and it should be a final that lives up to it.
My prediction? Norway by 3.