The last four of in total 88 matches at the XX Women’s World Championship will bring the decisions which teams will win Gold, Silver and Bronze – and will decide the Olympic Qualification Tournaments, played from 25 – 27 May 2012.
Both finalists – Norway and France – which start their clash at 17:15 local times in Sao Paulo have already been World Champion before. Norway took their only Gold medal in 1999 by beating France in the final in Norway after extra time, and France needed as well an extra-time to become World Champion 2003 by beating Hungary in the final in Croatia. No player of both 1999 final contenders is still in the team rosters of both 2011 finalists. The only one of those players from 1999, who could have been on the field in Sao Paulo, is Norwegian defence specialist Tonje Larsen, but she is currently injured and missed the World Championship.
Both teams can write history on Sunday 18 December: If France win, then both teams (men and women) will be 2011 World Champions. The last time in handball history, when this occurred, was in 1982 when USSR became World Champions for men and women. If Norway win, they are the second women’s team ever to be World, Olympic and European Champion at the same time. The only triple champion’s team before, was Denmark as European and Olympic Champion 1996 and World Champion 1997.
For the fourth time in history after 1999 (Silver), 2003 (Gold) and 2009 (Silver), France has reached the final of a Women’s World Championship, Norway is among the finalists for the fifth time: 1997, 2001 and 2007 they won the Silver medal, and 1999 they were the World Champion. Aside Norway is record European Champion with five titles in 1998, 2004, 2006, 2008, and 2010. In total the Northern Europeans took 19 medals at major tournaments since 1986. France only took two Bronze medals at European Championships aside the WCh medals.
In Brazil both finalists won seven of eight matches: Norway won their Preliminary Round opener against Germany, whilst France lost in the Preliminary Round against host Brazil.
The final is highly important for the constellation of the three Olympic Qualification Tournaments – and the Olympic qualification: If Norway win the final – and as they are already qualified for the 2012 Olympic Games as European Champions – Sweden will be another winner, as they would qualify directly for the Olympics as Silver medalists of the 2010 European Championship.
If Norway will become World Champion, then the three Olympic Qualification Tournaments will be played in France, Denmark and Spain. If France win the title, then those tournaments will be played in Denmark, Spain and Russia.
Both coaches see the opposite team as the favourite for the final: “France is the best team in the world,” said Norwegian coach Thorir Hergeirsson. “Due to our injury problems, Norway is the clear favourite,” said French coach Olivier Krumbholz, who was already coaching the French team at the World Championship 1999.
In only five days two French top stars were injured severely: Mariama Signate suffers from a broken bone in her face, as Alison Pineau suffers from a rupture of the crucial ligament in the semi-final against Denmark. Norway has to replace key players like Gro Hammerseng, Tonje Larsen and Katja Nyberg due to pregnancies or long-term injuries for the entire World Championship.
As Norway was successful thanks to their counter attacks and highly movable defence, France is well known as the best defending nation in men and women. “The key to everything is defence,” Krumbholz said very often. So the final clashing seems still not decided.
Before this great final the placement matches for the ranks 3 – 8 will be played in Arena Ibirapuera.