Russia stops Norway's three-peat bid in women's handball
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) The three-peat is officially off for Norway in women's handball.
Widely considered the world's best team, Norway's charge for a third consecutive Olympic gold ended abruptly in the semifinals Thursday with a 38-37 loss to Russia in extra time after a thrilling and bruising game.
''I don't have the words because when I think about the game I want to cry,'' said Vladlena Bobrovnikova, Russia's top scorer with eight goals, sporting bruises and a long red cut across her nose. ''I don't feel the pain, I feel so happy because we have the final. This victory, it's so crazy.''
Beating Norway, a team that ''won everything'' with Olympic, world and European titles, was particularly sweet. ''I don't know how, but we won.''
Russia will now play France in Saturday's final after the French beat the Netherlands 24-23 in the first semifinal.
It'll be a battle between two underdogs - France has not won a medal in its last five major championships, while Russia has been rebuilding since failing to qualify for the 2013 world championship.
Russia shut down a good start from Norway with a scoring run that erased an 11-8 deficit and put the team up 15-12 midway through the first half. While Norway frequently pulled even after that, Russia did not give up the lead in the rest of regulation.
The Russians were heading for a 31-30 win in regulation but Heidi Loke tied up the game with a goal four seconds from time. Norway started strongly in extra time, but a two-minute suspension for Ida Alstad interrupted the flow and let Russia control the pace. When Camilla Herrem missed a shot to tie up the game for Norway, Russia ran down the clock and celebrated a famous win.
Eleven different players scored for Russia, while Nora Mork was Norway's main attacking threat with 14 goals.
While Russia was a silver medalist in 2008, it had not been among the top teams in recent tournaments. Unexpected success in Rio has put handball on prime-time state TV slots and given the game an increased public profile.
And coach Evgeny Trefilov and his colorful outbursts at courtside have gone viral at home. After the opening group stage game, he said he had wondered ''whether to hang myself or to hang everyone else'' in the dressing room while seven goals down.
Upon beating Norway, Trefilov was more restrained, paying tribute to the Scandinavians' play, but also went on an extended tirade calling for all foreigners to be banned from playing at Russian clubs.
For Norway, defeat was a hammer blow.
Goalkeeper Katrine Lunde said there were ''too much negative thoughts'' to analyze the game, but said the Norwegian defense had never really worked at its best. Regrouping to face the Netherlands for bronze will be difficult, she added.
''It's hard, it'll take a bit of time,'' she said. ''We have to. We really want to have a medal and it means a lot so we just have to work tomorrow again and we can take a vacation when we're finished.''
Whoever wins Saturday's final will be a first-time gold medalist after France upset the Netherlands, last year's world championship silver medalist.
Overwhelming crowd support and the presence of Dutch King Willem-Alexander couldn't lift the Netherlands, who spent most of the game narrowly behind.
A nail-biting finish saw a big save from French goalkeeper Laura Glauser and another shot hit the post as her team tried to hold on for the win on a Dutch power-play. On the final whistle, the French team embraced on court and jumped up and down in front of their fans.
''For a long time we have won nothing and now we will have a medal so it's amazing,'' France's Siraba Dembele said.