When the last block was completed and the final buzzer sounded, it was France who celebrated an extremely hard-earned opening victory, 32:31, in EHF EURO 2018 Group B in Porec. After 60 high-class minutes, the world champions beat Norway again – just as they did in the World Championship 2017 Final.
But this time, the match was much closer than the 33:26 result in Paris last January. In the end, it was the eight goals from Kentin Mahe (awarded best player of the match) and the saves of goalkeeper Vincent Gerard that turned the game around to a final score of 32:31 (15:17). Even seven strikes from Kent Robin Tonnesen were not enough for the Scandinavians, who were ahead through most of the game.
"I am very satisfied. We had a long and hard preparation for this particular match," said France's Kentin Mahe after the match. "It is good to face a strong team right at the start of the competition. Now we are proud and satisfied and go on with confidence."
The giants’ duel was headlined by speed, spectacular goals and great saves, as the fans in the sold-out Zatika Sports Arena in Porec enjoyed a magnificent handball show.
After a strong start from France, courtesy of the saves from goalkeeper Gerard, Norway took the upper hand. Tonnesen scored five from five and Torbjorn Bergerud put on an impressive display to bring his side back on track with eight saves before the break. In minute 20, the Scandinavians took their first lead at 12:11 – and did not let it go until minute 52.
When France had adapted to Tonnesen’s attack, PSG superstar Sander Sagosen scored twice and after the break, line player Bjarte Myrhol found the gaps in the partly unstable world champions’ defence – with key members of their regular middle block, Ludovic Fabregas and Luka Karabatic, missing due to injuries.
On the other hand, Norway had built a movable defence, putting pressure on the French attackers, who recorded an unexpectedly high number of missed passes and turnovers. But thanks to Gerard’s saves in crucial moments, France managed to reduce the intermediate three-goal gap to only one when Kentin Mahe netted his sixth individual goal for 23:24.
The high-speed encounter was open again, particularly when Valentin Porte levelled at 27:27 with eight minutes to go – the third unanswered French goal in a row. 90 seconds before the end, Luc Abalo was the one to earn France their first lead since 11:10, pulling them to 31:30. But the game was not decided, and even the 32:31 by Michael Guigou did not make it clear, as it took the final block against Eivind Tangen’s last-second hammer to confirm the winner.
"I feel very sad that we lost, especially as we controlled the game for 50 minutes – then France took it away. We lost due to our own mistakes, so we must train harder," said Norway coach Christian Berge. "We have two tough games ahead, we have to wake up tomorrow and fight, as we still have the aim to go a long way in Croatia."