17/01/2020

Eyes on the prize for Norway

FEATURE: Norway left the preliminary round in Trondheim with two points and are eager to fight for their first ever medal at the EHF EURO, while expecting fans to flock to Malmö to cheer for them

Norway's coach Christian Berge plans to drive his team all the way to Stockholm. Photo © Stanko Gruden / kolektiff

For three games, Norway had at least 8,000 fans behind them, cheering every move they made on the court.

One of the favourites to win a medal before the first throw off, Norway repaid the debt in full with three dominating wins against Bosnia and Herzegovina, France and Portugal on their way to start the main round in Malmö with two points.

There were amazing goals from centre back Sander Sagosen, superb saves from Torbjoern Bergerud and perfectly designed handball to boost Norway’s morale before the business end of the EHF EURO 2020.

The Trondheim Spektrum is, however, behind them, as the hosts will now play in Sweden and will not count on the full support of their fans anymore.

“We hope to have at least 2,000 fans in Malmö to cheer for us, now that Denmark are out of the tournament and they can get tickets easier,” says Norwegian right back Magnus Röd.

“Sweden is just around the corner, so many Norwegians will come, I expect them to be here,” jokes coach Christian Berge.

High pressure

The main round’s Group II in Malmö looked to be a certain “group of death” before the start of the tournament, with powerhouses of the likes of Sweden, France, Denmark and Norway all vying to progress to the final weekend in Stockholm.

However, France and Denmark were surprising discards after the preliminary round, so Norway’s path to Stockholm is starting to look straightforward, especially as Christian Berge’s side throws off with two points.

“We feel very good, but also a little bit sad that we left Norway, because we had such a great time, we played three games and playing at home is always amazing. We have to restart, to adjust and hopefully these two rest days will get us prepared for the next games,” says Sagosen.

But the pressure is also high, with expectations skyrocketing after the preliminary round.

“It is important to start with two points, but we want to add on that tally, our game against Hungary is very important, because they play relaxed and the pressure is on us,” Berge adds.

Norway have never won a medal at the EHF EURO, and their fourth place in 2016 was their best performance.

However, they know the taste of winning a medal, clinching silver at the World Championship in 2017 and 2019, with Sagosen as their leader.

“The medal is both a dream, as it is doable. We want a gold medal, but it takes a lot of stuff for us to do, we have a difficult main round group, against some very good teams. We can only lose once and be out, so we need to tread carefully our next steps,” adds Sagosen.

The future MVP?

Sagosen has, undoubtedly, been the leader of the team both in attack and in defence.

He averages one steal per game, had only three turnovers so far in the tournament and is also ranking third in the fastest goals, converting a 138 km/h shot against Portugal, only behind Czech back Stanislav Kasparek (139,8 km/h) and Poland’s Szimon Sicko (138,7 km/h).

But there is not only sheer power from Sagosen, as his creativity also helps Norway unlock their line players or wings. The 24-year old playmaker also assisted 19 goals, the biggest number of assists made in the competition in the preliminary round.

“He is playing like the MVP now, but I am not the one to pick him out of the lot,” says Berge.

Sagosen himself scored 27 goals, but he does not think about individual plaudits. In fact, it is all about the team.

“Winning a medal would feel excellent. The gold one would be amazing. I am thinking only about that,” concludes Sagosen.

written by Adrian Costeiu / jh