Preview: Women’s handball bronze and gold medal matches

Bronze medal match: Netherlands vs. Norway 

10:30 a.m. EST

A heartbreaking loss for each of these teams in the closing second (not seconds, second) of play in the semifinals. Both teams were just inches shy of [potentially] playing for the 2:30 gold medal match instead. 

Yet, here these two teams are, trying to refocus to take home the bronze. 

It’s going to take a serious effort for these two teams to find the will to fight for third place and neither have experience being in this position. This is the Netherlands’ first-ever Olympic appearance and Norway are used to battling for gold. 

These two teams enjoy playing a similar style of play, focusing on moving the ball with pace and working the fast break to their advantage. 

Norway have, undeniably, a much sturdier defense than Netherlands and could very well barricade the center of the perimeter to generate the turnover. Heidi Loke and Marit Frafjord are excellent at doing that and feeding the ball to Nora Mork on the other end. 

Norway also play an incredibly fluid game and are very apt at slowing things down to work the ball around the perimeter. Veronica Kristiansen and Camilla Herrem are experts are picking apart congested defenses and it nearly worked to perfection against Russia. Meanwhile, Loke and Mork are nearly extensions of one another and do a great job at pushing forward into the six meter mark. 

The Netherlands’ strengths truly rely on continuously upping the pace and strike before their opponents’ defense can find their positioning. 

Estavana Pollman, Laura van der Heijden are the key scorers for this team while Nycke Groot’s done a fine job in passing the ball around from the pivot position. 

The Netherlands missed Pollman against France – she was virtually a non-factor. That has to change this time around if they are to challenge the Norwegians – who surely must be fired up to salvage that disappointing result against Russia. 

Gold medal match: France vs. Russia

2:30 p.m. EST

France will need to win another rematch if they are to take the gold. This time it’s against a team that they lost to before. 

In their first meeting, France failed to disrupt the Russian scoring machine (similar to every other team that dared challenge Russia). That’s some space for concern, because France’s defense looked rattled against Spain and the Netherlands. 

If there’s even more room for conern, it’s how France struggled to contain a Dutch squad that plays a very similar style of play to Russia. 

Each time, though, France’s defensed managed to dig deep and stop both teams. Alexandra Lacrabere and Siraba Dembele have been absolutely pivotal to this teams success in closing up the middle of the court and forcing the fast break. 

But Russia don’t just score from the middle – Polina Kuznetsova is a huge threat from the wing. Vladlena Bobrovnikova does excellently to poach through the wing and break into the space between the pivot and wing. Plus, Daria Dmitrieva is a very formiddable player in the center. 

Russia were down very early in their win against Norway, and it seemed Norway would quickly put the game away – yet Russia have that undeniable intangible ability to just find that switch and completely change the tide of the match. They found it twice against Norway – in the beginning of the game and in the end. 

France have a huge undertaking on their hands. Both of these teams know the other’s strengths and weaknesses. They are both going to play to their strengths. 

So what’s going to give in first? France’s defense? Or Russia’s offense? 

Whatever the case may be, these two contrasting styles and personalities will make for an incredible finish.