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Date: 12/18/2013

Both 2011 Women’s World Championship finalists have missed the 2013 semi-finals. After France were beaten by Poland on Wednesday (18 December), host Serbia made their dream come true some hours later, causing the biggest sensation by defeating defending World and Olympic champions Norway. The Norwegians missed their first semi-final of a major tournament since 2005, while the Serbs will face Poland in their semi-final on Friday (20 December). For them it is the first participation in a World Championship semi-final since Montenegro split off. In 2001 Serbia-Montenegro won the bronze medal at the World Championship. Denmark vs. Brazil is the second semi.

The match of host vs. defending champions in Belgrade was attended by 16.028 spectators in the Kombank Arena, which means a new world record for women’s handball matches. The old record was scored at the 2012 European championship semi-final Serbia vs. Montenegro by 13.200, also in the Kombank Arena in Belgrade.

14 saves of Serbian goalkeeper Katarina Tomasevic, eight goals of Dragana Cvijic and a never ending fighting spirit decided the match, in which Norway had already been away by 20:15, but then lost their line completely to conceed a series of 5:13 goals.
So three of four group winners of the preliminary round – Norway, France and Germany – missed the semi-final, only Brazil marched through. And three teams of preliminary round group B in Nis – Serbia, Denmark and Brazil have clinched their berth for the semis.


The schedule for the semi-finals:

Friday, 20 December in Belgrade:

18:00 hrs. local time: Poland vs. Serbia

20:45 hrs. local time: Brazil – Denmark

Quarterfinal Serbia – Norway 28:25 (15:16)

The first half had been a game of two halves – the first 22 minutes, when Norway were clearly dominant and overran the host by leading by 11:6 in style, followed by the first Serbian catch-up chase. This clear initial lead had one major key: Goalkeeper Katrine Lunde, who saved sensational ten shots before the break, including three Serbian penalties. Additionally the defending champions had fine solutions for all tasks in defence and attack. Their defence row was like a wall of concrete, their attack was built-up by needle-pin counter-attacks and powerful actions of line player Heidi Löke.

Serbia tried hard to solve their problems – and when Sanja Damnjanovic (in total eight goals like Cvijic) took the command the match changed completely. Her five goals before the break were the starting signal for her team-mates. The Serbian defence improved as well as their confidence. They reduced the gap goal by goal, highlighted by a 12 meter hammer goal of Andrea Lekic with the halftime buzzer for the 15:16.

And the second half exactly started in the same way the first had begun: by a clear Norwegian dominance. It took more than seven minutes until the Serbs had scored their first goal by unstoppable Dragana Cvijic, as Lunde still stood like a rock. But before their 16th strike, Norway had already hit the net four times for 20:15. But pushed by the incredible atmosphere and backed by the saves of Tomasevic, Serbia again reduced the gap to only one goal at 20:21 in a match full of speed, power and adrenaline.

And when – who else than – Cvijic hit the net by a lobbed penalty in minute 47 to equalize at 21:21 the arena was shaken in its cornerstones.

Norway did not score for twelve minutes after the 21:16, while the Serbs went on a highflyer, intermediately taking and then even increasing the lead by seven consecutive goals to 23:21. Nobody was sitting on its seats anymore, excited by the thrilling match, in which Tomasevic and Cvijic grew and grew. Cvijic’s eighth goal in her eighth attempt extended the gap to three goals for the first time at 25:22, topped by the next strike of Damnjanovic.

Coach Hergeirsson needed to interrupt, taking his last time-out four minutes before the end, when Norway were down by 23:27. But when Tomasevic saved a counter attack of Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth-Koren 90 seconds before the end at the score of 28:24, the semi-final deal for the World Championship host was sealed. The Serbian players danced on the bench 15 seconds before the end, while the spectators counted down the seconds for the biggest sensation of this competition by now.

Statements after the match:

Sasa Boskovic (coach Serbia): I’m so proud. My team played like a champion today. We beat the best team of the world of the last years. We won against the Olympic Champion, the defending World Champion. Thank you, my team! It was a hard fight for the semi-final. Norway were spectacular at the first half but finally our power and our team-spirit was decisive. 
Dragana Cvijic (pivot Serbia/player of the day):  I’m speechless. Norway have a phenomenal team. What ever happens now, this match will remembered long time. I was so proud to play in front of so many supporters. 
Sanja Damnjanovic, player Serbia: We were a bit tense and anxious in the early stages but we managed to come from five goals behind and win the match against mighty Norway, which is a huge accomplishment. I knew we would win when we fought back to take the lead in the second half. Norway are a world class team who have so many medals it’s hard to count them. But tonight we were the better side and won deservedly. Now we have to root out any euphoria and complacency that might creep in because Poland, our semi-final opponents, are a strong team and the surprise package of this World Championship. I have to give a lot of credit to my team mates Jelena Zivkovic and Jelena Nisavic, who lived things up in attack, but the plaudits also go to our pivot Dragana Cvijic who had a great game and found the courage to take a crucial pair of penalty shots after we missed three in the first half.

Andrea Lekic, player Serbia: This was a team win every step of the way. As I said before, miracles do happen and our dream of winning a medal is still very much alive. I am really proud of the girls because we fought back from five goals down twice and very few teams can do that against Norway. We have so much more self-confidence than in the previous years. This is the happiest day of my career and I am really delighted that we have reached the semi-finals.

Thorir Hergeirsson (coach Norway): Congratulation to Serbia! It was a pathetic match in an extraordinary atmosphere. Serbia were stronger than our team today. We wanted to win but unfortunately we couldn’t manage it. Now we will go home, rest a little bit during Christmas and in January we will start to work hard to come stronger to the next events.

Karoline Breivang (player Norway): It was a big fun to play with all the spectators. We started very well both halves, but Serbia fought back. Today the host were stronger and I have to congratulate the Serbs to a great match. The victory was well-deserved.

Final ranking 5-24:

5. NOR

6. FRA

7. GER

8. HUN

9. ESP

10. ROU

11. MNE

12. KOR

13. NED

14. JPN

15. CZE

16. ANG

17. TUN

18. CHN

19. ARG

20. COD

21. PAR

22. ALG

23. DOM

24. AUS