Pre-tournament favourites Norway in the end proved too strong for a tenacious Montenegro side in the women’s final last night. The medal was Montenegro’s first-ever Olympic medal. Norway struggled to find their rhythm – missing more shots from open play than they scored – but in the end had too much class and emerged 26:23 winners.
The bronze medal match was a classic. Two periods of extra time were required to separate South Korea and Spain after the Koreans converted a fast-break half a second too late to take the match in normal time. The final score was 31:29 to Spain as the Koreans notably tired throughout the four demanding periods of additional time.
So, the final standings are:
GOLD – Norway, SILVER – Montenegro, BRONZE – Spain
In the end the difference was only a goal but that doesn’t really reflect how much Montenegro were the better team throughout the match. At one point Spain had a shot percentage of 70% (they ended on 60%) but were still behind in the scoreboard – because fundamentally if you’re giving up possession before shooting then you’re going to struggle to win the match.
It was impressive to see how steady Montenegro took the match. They score 4/5 on fast breaks but turned down the opportunity to send the ball quickly down more times than that – preferring to build and then send in a bullet. As well as scoring 6/9 Bojana Popovic always seemed to be on hand to calm things down. The rockets fired in by Katarina Bulatovic, especially from the 7m line, also helped the cause.
Spain on the other hand looked flustered although, as said, their shooting was mostly on the money. They turned over possession too often and could never settle on a pattern to unlock the Montenegrin defence. It was particularly sad at the end to see their goalkeeper Silvia Jimenez unconsolable after such an excellent shot-stopping performance that wasn’t mirrored by the offense.
These are amazing times to be a Montenegrin women’s handball supporter. After Budućnost’s Champions League victory now the national side stand of the brink of an Olympic gold medal. The small matter of Norway stands between them and the title. The Norwegians in the crowd cheered Montenegro, whether out of desire to see the smaller nation win or a feeling that it would be easier for their side I don’t know, but the Beijing winners will have to be on top form to overcome the country that has fought past France and Spain in consecutive rounds.