France delighted an ecstatic AccorHotels Arena in Paris as 12,463 fans witnessed the hosts defeat the Netherlands 27:21 on Friday, thereby making their way to their first EHF EURO final. The world champions France will meet Olympic champions Russia in Sunday’s final in a repeat of the opening match of the tournament 15 days ago, when Russia won 26:23.
Friday’s result ended a curse for coach Olivier Krumbholz’s team, as France had lost all three previous EHF EURO Semi-finals they reached.
"I haven't got the words. I don’t even realise we’re in the final. I’ll have to repeat it to myself a few times so I can believe it," said France wing Laura Flippes after the match.
Netherlands vs France 21:27 (11:12)
Not much separated the teams at the beginning, as the Netherlands, with captain Nycke Groot back in the line-up, built a 3:2 lead during a nervous opening phase. But suddenly France clicked into gear and shut out the Dutch for nearly seven minutes, using a 4:0 run to pull clearly in front. Estelle Nze Minko scored three times as France went ahead 8:4, and later 10:6.
Nze Minko finished the match with a flawless six from six and received the Player of the Match award.
France had already been more effective in attack than the Netherlands coming into this match, with an efficiency of 67 versus 57 per cent. After the Netherlands squandered various promising attacks through sloppy passes, they found more accuracy in the final part of the first half.
Three goals from right wing Angela Malestein in this phase helped the Dutch reduce the deficit to just one at break (11:12). Malestein had been dropped from the squad for the decisive main round game against Germany last Wednesday, but coach Helle Thomsen welcomed her back into the line-up for the semi-final.
Five minutes into the second half Estavana Polman levelled for the Netherlands (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 Nze Minko gave the hosts a four-goal lead again, which only grew bigger as the final buzzer approached.
"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."
The French defence was backed by a strong Laura Glauser, who replaced Amandine Leynaud at the break and had a save rate of 50 per cent after denying the Dutch nine shots from 18 attempts.