Russia shatter Norway's dream of third Olympic gold
When the Olympic women's semi-final between Russia and Norway was over, there was disbelief in almost all players' faces. The Russian athletes could not believe what they had just achieved, while Norway's players tried to grasp what just happened to them.
With 30 seconds left to play in extra time, Russia's Ekaterina Ilina had granted her team with a 38:37 lead, and when Camilla Herrem failed to convert Norway's last chance, the looming surprise had become reality.
Russia reached their first Olympic women's final since 2008 and also took revenge for that very final eight years ago which they lost 34:27 against Norway at Beijing 2008.
At the same time, the defeat ended Norway's hopes to win a third consecutive Olympic gold after they had also topped the podium at London 2012 following a 26:23 win against Montenegro.
The semi-final was a thrilling affair with neither Russia nor Norway being able to take a considerable advantage throughout the match. Russia led 18:16 at half-time and even temporarily by three goals in the second period.
However, Norway always fought back and world-class line player Heidi Loke brought the game to extra time when she levelled at 31:31 with four seconds left on the clock in regular time. Goals were then scored evenly on both ends of the court in extra time, before Norway were not able to answer Ilina's final goal anymore.
First final for France
In Saturday's final Russia will meet France who beat World Championship 2015 silver medallists Netherlands to reach their first Olympic final.
France had already carved out a 17:13 lead at the break and they managed to hold on to it until the 50th minute when they led 23:22.
Nervousness then seemed to kick in big time as they were a mere two goals scored in the final ten minutes of the game.
France scored once more in the 52nd minute, but despite numerous attempts, the Dutch squad netted only once more and when Lois Abbingh's shot in the dying seconds of the game only hit the post, the French win was sealed.
The bronze medal match between the Netherlands and Norway, a repetition of the World Championship 2015 Final which Norway won, will take place at 16:30 hrs CET on Saturday. The final throws off at 20:30 hrs CET.
Photos: Stephane Pillaud / IHF
TEXT: EHF / ts