Two semi-finalists arrive at the penultimate stage of the 2018 IHF Women’s Junior (U20) World Championship undefeated, while the other two sides each lost one game during their campaign – to the semi-finalists with perfect runs through Hungary 2018. All four semi-finalists made it to this stage from Groups A and B, and three of the four squads contested the 2016 Youth World Championship semi-finals for this generation.
2016 Youth World Championship runners-up Denmark are the only team not to qualify for the semi-finals again, having been replaced by Hungary among the top four sides in the 1998-born generation of players. Hungary are also the only one of the top four teams who have never won the Women’s Junior World Championship before.
In the Hungary 2018 semi-finals on Friday, 2016 Youth world champions Russia will take on the fourth-placed squad from Slovakia 2016, Norway, before Korea meet Hungary in a match that promises a great atmosphere in Hall Fonix, Debrecen.
All games will be live streamed here.
Semi-final: Russia vs Norway – July 13, 17:30 local time
They played the two toughest quarter-finals at Hungary 2018 and arrive for the second-to-last round of games as deserving semi-finalists. Russia overcame the Netherlands 28:26, after a level score of 14:14 at half-time, in what was a highly emotional, difficult match for both teams. It was clear long before the final whistle that whichever side survived the tough battle would prove they belong among the top squads at Hungary 2018 – in the end it was the reigning Youth World Championship-winning squad from Russia.
Norway had an even closer match in the quarter-final stage, against France. In fact, as France took charge early and led by two goals at the break, Norway’s qualification for the semi-finals was remarkable. The Scandinavian team grabbed the momentum towards the end of the second period and ran with it right to the penultimate stage.
Norway fell behind in the first half against France and only equalised in the 60th minute after fighting their way back from a five-goal deficit, 12:17, in the 36th. The game was therefore decided in extra time, with no goals in the second period of five minutes until Ragnhild Dahl scored the winning shot with seconds on the clock. It was a thrilling moment for Norway, and a heart-breaking one for the 2017 European champions in this age group.
Now, Russia and Norway must regroup after their adrenalin-pumping quarter-finals and ready themselves for what will be a tough semi-final encounter.
Russia are looking to continue with their perfect record at Hungary 2018, which has seen them take only wins – versus People’s Republic of China, Chile, Iceland, Slovenia and Republic of Korea in Group B; Brazil in the eighth-final; and the Netherlands in the quarter-final. Norway have one blemish their record at Hungary 2018: the decisive Round 5 defeat to Hungary. The Scandinavian team beat Brazil, Montenegro and Portugal in the preliminary round; and won their eighth-final against Iceland.
Russia and Norway have faced two common opponents at Hungary 2018: Brazil and Iceland. Norway won by five goals against both Brazil and Iceland; Russia beat Brazil by 12 and Iceland by a huge 18-goal margin. These results hint that Russia may be the stronger of the two semi-finalists, but as Norway showed with their late win against France, anything can happen in the knock-out matches.
Semi-final: Hungary vs Korea – July 13, 20:00 local time
Two years ago, at the 2016 Youth World Championship in Slovakia, Hungary were knocked out with a one-goal loss to Norway in the quarter-final stage and went on to finish fifth overall. Now, they have made it among the top four, buoyed on by a fantastic atmosphere both during and after matches, when the support for the home side has been a positive asset for their already strong performances.
At the 2016 Youth World Championship, this Korea squad placed third. The teams did not meet at that event and have never faced each other on court at a major international event – a fact that could work in favour of Korea, at least early in the match. The pace of the Asian squad’s attack, their active defence and the vocal, enthusiastic manner in which they approach a match can often catch European sides off guard.
Both Hungary and Korea enjoyed more comfortable wins in their quarter-finals than Norway and Russia. After proceeding through the preliminary round with only victories, over Brazil, Portugal and Montenegro and Norway, Hungary defeated Slovenia clearly in the eighth-final, and then Romania in the quarter-final. Though they finished with decisive score lines in their favour, Hungary did not have such an easy time in the knock-out matches, as they had to fight their way back from deficits created against them in the first halves.
“It was a very exciting match. I think everything has happened here. There was stress, excitement, joy, sorrow, all at once – I think it was absolutely worthy of a fight for four,” said Hungary right wing Dorottya Faluvegi after the quarter-final versus Romania. “South Korea represents a special game because it is not a European team.”
Korea’s win over Denmark in their quarter-final was not a surprise, but the decisive score line was. The Asian team left the defending champions with no chance, leading 11:7 at half-time and finishing with an eight-goal win, 24:16. The victory came after their eighth-final win versus Montenegro, which followed a difficult preliminary round campaign in Group B. Korea opened with a draw against Iceland, then beat P.R. of China, Slovenia and Chile before losing their last game to Russia.
It will be a very interesting encounter to decide the second place in the final. Can Hungary continue the dream and make it to what would be their third trophy match in this event, or will Korea qualify for the final for the fifth time?