ROC beat favourites Norway in Olympic semi-final thriller
For the first time in Olympic handball history, both finals will be a repeat of the previous Olympic Games.
After France and Denmark won their semi-finals on Thursday in the men's competition at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, France and the ROC followed suit on Friday in the women's competition.
France vs Sweden 29:27 (15:14)
- France trailed 5:2 after eight minutes but regained their composure and held a slender lead at half-time after Laura Flippes broke through to score with three seconds left in the half
- the match was tied at 18:18 when Sweden line player Linn Blohm, who has scored a remarkable 22 goals from 22 shots at Tokyo 2020, received a third two-minute suspension
- Grace Zaadi Deuna (seven goals) was France’s top scorer, while Johanna Westberg and Jenny Carlson (both six goals) finished as joint-top scorers for Sweden
Darleux's late flourish denies Sweden
In France’s quarter-final against the Netherlands, goalkeeper Amandine Leynaud made 22 saves in an outstanding performance. At the top level of women’s handball, having two top-class goalkeepers is an invaluable asset for any team.
On Friday against Sweden, Leynaud did not reproduce her performance from the quarter-finals, but Cleopatre Darleux stepped up when it mattered most for France in the second half. With just over six minutes remaining, Darleux's double save denied first Jamina Roberts and then Anna Lagerquist.
When Darleux made a far more routine stop from Emma Lindqvist in the 57th minute and Estelle Nze Minko took advantage of space on the six-metre line on the subsequent attack to give them a four-goal lead, 29:25, France's place in a second consecutive Olympic final was sealed.
With France's women joining the men in their respective Olympic finals, France are guaranteed two handball medals at Tokyo 2020 – but they may need more big goalkeeping performances in both competitions if they are to make it a golden weekend.
Norway vs ROC 26:27 (11:14)
- after video review ROC's Anna Sen was directly disqualified in the first half for a foul on Norway's top scorer Nora Mørk (10 goals)
- Norway failed to score for almost eight minutes in the second half, allowing ROC to surge into a 22:16 lead with 18 minutes remaining
- although Anna Seydokina and Anna Vyakhireva had great games, ROC still had to hold off a valiant fight back from Norway in the last 10 minutes of the match
Vyakhireva repeats Rio performance
When Norway and Russia met in the semi-finals at Rio 2016, Russia won an epic encounter 38:37 after extra time. As with all athletes from Russia at Tokyo 2020, Russia's women's handball team is playing under the name of ROC, but the result against Norway in the semi-finals was ultimately the same – a one-goal victory for ROC.
As you might expect from a match that had fewer goals than their clash five years ago, goalkeepers Anna Seydokina (ROC) and Katrine Lunde (Norway) both finished with save percentages comfortably in excess of 30 per cent.
ROC right back Anna Vyakhireva was one consistent factor in the outcome being repeated. When the 2016 semi-final was decided, Vyakhireva scored twice for Russia in extra time. After Norway reduced ROC's advantage from 22:16 to 25:23 in Tokyo, Vyakhireva broke through Norway's defence to score ROC's final two goals of the game.
As Norway fought to level the match in the closing stages, Vyakhireva's astute play in attack helped ROC hold on for victory.
Final – 8 August
France vs ROC (08:00 CEST)
Bronze medal match – 8 August
Norway vs Sweden (04:00 CEST)
Detailed results and schedules are available on the official Olympics homepage.
All Tokyo 2020 photos courtesy of IHF.