Two impressive goalkeepers and high-speed handball imprinted Sunday’s second EHF EURO 2018 Group B encounter in Porec. After their unlucky 31:32 defeat against France, Norway needed to avoid another setback – and they did with a 33:28 (15:12) win, despite the strong resistance from Belarus.
“Belarus played fast and tough, and we had some problems, though we won the game. It was a hard fight for us," said Norway coach Christian Berge, while left back Christian O'Sullivan added: "Belarus played the same game as we did, so it was hard to shake them off.”
Norwegian Torbjorn Bergerud (14 saves, awarded best player of the match) and Belarusian Viachaslau Saldatsenka (13 saves) were the stars of the exciting Round 2 duel.
Both sides are on two points after two matches – and while Norway are the favourites against Austria, Belarus will be the underdogs when they meet world champions France on Tuesday.
Without their back-court ace Barys Pukhouski, who had to miss the game with a fever, Belarus lacked one important option in attack, but others – such as line player Artsem Karalek (five goals), right back Siarhei Shylovich and right wing Maxim Baranau (both with four strikes) – jumped in.
Backed by Bergerud, Norway took the upper hand after an equal start. Magnus Gullerud and Christian Bjornsen (both on six goals at the final whistle) were the key figures in attack, and the defence was well-adapted to Belarus’ powerful back-court shooters.
15:11 was the first four-goal advantage for Norway, and exactly 15 minutes before the end, right wing Bjornsen netted for a pre-decisive difference of five, 24:19.
Belarus were strong in their reverse gear, avoiding the famous Norwegian counter attacks, but the Scandinavians were extremely confident in their positional play, steered by a brilliant Sander Sagosen. But Belarus showed great morale – and beat Norway using the World Championship 2017 silver medallists own weapons, netting after some impressive counter attacks from the Scandinavian team.
"We played at a high level and fought to the very end. We made too many errors at the end, which made us lose the match," said Belarus' Hleb Harbuz after the match.
Despite the defeat, Belarus proved that their direction is up – a clear signal to their final preliminary round opponent France.