Europe 1 with AFP / Photo credit: Beate Oma Dahle / NTB / AFP 10:10 a.m., December 17, 2023

The final of the Women's World Handball Championship will take place this Sunday at 19 p.m., and will pit Les Bleues against the Norwegians. The French are dreaming of winning their third world title, but will have to face the Scandinavians, who have beaten them three times in the final.

A week after beating them in the group stage, the France women's handball team meets in the final of the World Cup Norway, its tormentor in recent years, to try to win a third world title in Herning (Denmark), twenty years after the first. "We're really fed up," said Chloé Valentini, left winger for Les Bleues who were beaten by the Scandinavians in the finals of Euro 2020 (22-20) and the World Cup 2021 (29-22) and in the semi-finals of Euro 2022 (28-20).

They had, according to captain Estelle Nze Minko, left Slovenia with "a lot of bitterness" last year after this new failure, a bitterness partly erased by the victory last Sunday in Trondheim (Norway) at the end of the main round (24-23). "We know very well that it won't be the same game. We also don't have to put a lot of pressure on ourselves, because when we play with pressure, we're not ourselves, we stress a little bit and we play with the handbrake. We have nothing to lose, we just have to enjoy it, play together and win," said Pauletta Foppa.

The pivot will once again have a key role in disrupting the Norwegian mechanics and blocking, with his runs up front, the left-back Henny Reistad (1.81 m), probably the best player in the world, who scored 15 goals (including all those of her team in extra time) in the semi-finals against Denmark (24-23). "Maybe the Danes didn't find where to put the grain of sand to put her in difficulty. We're going to work on it," said coach Olivier Krumbholz, mischievously, announcing that he was "preparing some adjustments" to last Sunday's success.

"Another Path"

The French threat is more diffuse, according to Nze Minko: "We have to be careful in all sectors. I like that. It creates a lot of danger, it's very hard for our opponents to prepare." The France team has progressed since the disappointment of Euro-2022, where it had "the feeling of not having played (its) game, of being in the wrong", says Nze Minko. The captain, along with her teammates and coach Olivier Krumbholz, are therefore convinced "that we had to take a different path". "And we took it," she said.

With a view to defending the Olympic title in Paris in 2024, the decision was made to open up the site of the set play, traditionally a weak point of Les Bleues. All the while strengthening one of their ten-year weapons, those quick runs of the ball that punish and suffocate the opponent in front of an iron defense.

"Fast Running Dwarfs"

Nze Minko "feels that another step has been taken in this competition" in this sector by her and her "band of riders". She elaborates on the expression: "Olivier (Krumbholz) likes to tell us sometimes, in a joking tone, when he's a little angry because we do things that don't work: 'You know who you are? You're a bunch of dwarfs running fast!'"

Deprived of Béatrice Edwige, their head of defence for a decade, sidelined to make way for the next generation embodied by Sarah Bouktit, this "bunch of dwarfs who run fast" has won all their matches since the beginning of the competition, in Norway until the quarter-finals and then in Denmark since the semi-finals.

However, Les Bleues had come to this Scandinavian World Cup with no real objective other than to measure their progress before the big Olympic event. But now, after the demonstration made in the semifinals against Sweden (37-28), "everyone wants the title", according to Foppa, who became international a few months after the second and to date last world title, in 2017 in France.