Hosts France beat The Netherlands 27-21 to earn a place in the final of the European Women’s Handball Championships on Sunday (December 16), where they will face Russia, who won their semi-final against Romania 28-22.
The French world champions delighted an ecstatic crowd at the AccorHotels Arena in Paris, with 12,463 fans witnessing them reach their first final in this European Handball Federation (EHF) competition.
They are now scheduled to meet the Olympic champions in a repeat of the opening match of the tournament 15 days ago, when Russia won 26:23.
Tonight’s result ended a curse for coach Olivier Krumbholz’s team, as France had lost all three previous EHF Euro Semi-finals they reached.
Five minutes into the second half Estavana Polman levelled for The Netherlands at 14-14 with her 100th goal in EHF EURO events, becoming the first Dutch player to reach that milestone - but The Netherlands were dealt a blow as they soon lost left wing Martine Smeets and then back Jessy Kramer to injuries.
France responded quickly, with Laura Flippes, Siraba Dembele Pavlovic and Estelle Nze Minko giving the hosts a four-goal lead again, which only grew bigger as the final buzzer approached.
Nze Minko had a perfect match, scoring six goals from six attempts.
"We made too many stupid mistakes and they punished us immediately," said Polman.
"We focus now only on the bronze medal game.
"We came here to win a medal and this is what we will do."
Russia earned their second appearance in the final with a commanding display inspired by Anna Vyakhireva.
Romania started strongly, leading 9-6 after 16 minutes, but could not resist the Russians’ second-half surge.
The Romanians scored their 2,000th goal in this competition when Cristina Florica took the score to 12-10, but that marked a tipping point in the game as right back Vyakhireva took control of the game.
The 23-year-old scored five of her eight first-half goals in the last 14 minutes and Russia claimed the lead, 16-15, with 12 seconds remaining before the break.
Injured captain Cristina Neagu tried to inspire her team-mates at half-time, going into the dressing room to provide advice and help, but it was not enough.
There was no coming back for Romania, as Vyakhireva, the Player of the Match, produced a magical 13-goal performance.
"We are truly sad about this loss," said Romania’s Crina Pintea.
"We believed we could be better, we believed in ourselves, but something was wrong in the second half.
"Vyakhireva is like a feather.
"She found some small spaces in our defence which even we did not know existed."
🇸🇪 29:38 🇳🇴 A big win sees Norway finishing #ehfeuro2018 in 5th place! 💥— EHF EURO (@EHFEURO) December 14, 2018
Top speed: #iBall
2⃣ 99 km/h - Massing
2⃣ 99 km/h - Kristiansen
1⃣ 101 km/h - Stromberg@hlandslaget @NORhandball #SWENOR #handballissime pic.twitter.com/o8HeoTJ6Rh
Earlier in the day Norway, who missed out on a semi-final on goal difference after finishing level on points with Romania and Hungary in Group II, were comfortable 38-29 winners over Sweden in the fifth-place match.
That was Norway’s fourth win in a row - but ultimately they paid the penalty of two uncharacteristic losses in the preliminary rouds, notably a record 31-23 defeat by Romania.
Fifth place in defence of their title was their worst showing since 2000, when they finished sixth.