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29/01/2016

Häfner’s last-second goal sends Germany to the final

REVIEW: For the first time ever, extra time was needed to decide a men’s EURO semi-final – and Norway were the unlucky losers

Photo: Sascha Klahn

---- This report has been updated: See bottom of the article for details ----

The 23rd semi-final of a Men’s EHF EURO made history: On Friday night, Germany were the first to clinch a berth in the final with an extra-time win.

Their 34:33 (27:27) over Norway after 70 thrilling and equal minutes was secured with the last action – a shot from Kai Häfner with only two seconds until the final buzzer.

While the unlucky Norwegians reeled in shock, the Germans danced on the court, celebrating their third final qualification in Men’s EHF EURO history after they made it to the ultimate match in 2002 and 2004.

“Had someone told me three weeks ago, that we would be in the final, I probably would not have believed it not. But it was such a crazy tournament and we have still one crazy match and we want to win it," said Erik Schmidt.

Despite an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Ole Erevik (16 saves) Norway lost their first ever semi-final and will now fight for the bronze medal.

The result means the two European tickets for the Olympic Qualification Tournaments are confirmed for Norway and Sweden.

"I think it's hard to say now what really made the difference today. We are a very young team and all the future is ahead of us. A lot of players can be in this team for many years. I hope it's the start of something great tonight," said Espen Lie Hansen.

The top scorer of the most thrilling semi-final in Men’s EURO history was Germany’s Tobias Reichmann, who netted ten goals from ten attempts and took the lead in the overall top scorer ranking with 43 strikes.

“It was the best performance from our team, we fought from the beginning to the end and I cannot describe it...I am just very happy," Reichmann said.

The first half could be split perfectly into three parts: In the first ten minutes, the Norwegian defence was stronger, though the German goalkeeper Andreas Wolff was better, resulting in a 4:4 draw after nine minutes.

In the second part of the first half Germany had the momentum, when they profited at first from a two-man advantage on court. Germany forged ahead thanks to wing players Rune Dahmke and Reichmann (four penalty goals from four attempts in 30 minutes) to 9:5, while Norway did not score for seven minutes.

But this first four-goal advance for Germany was a turning point: Backed by the saves of goalkeeper Ole Erevik and the hammer goals of left back Espen Lie Hansen, Norway turned the tables, recording an 8:3 series to take the lead at 13:12 in the 27th minute.

But German struck twice to hold a 14:13 lead after an entertaining first half dominated by Wolff, Erevik and the six goals of Reichmann.

With the Norwegian defence improving again, the surprise-package team took their first two-goal lead at 19:17 in minute 38 as Germany missed too many chances and Norway used the turnovers to create counter attack goals.

From that moment the lead changed constantly, and neither team could forge ahead to more than a two-goal advantage – if Germany took the lead Norway would strike back twice, and vice versa.

Ten minutes before the end, when Christian Bjornsen netted his fourth penalty goal for 24:22, the Germans seemed to be shaken. Coach Dagur Sigurdsson took his time-out some minutes later and changed the goalkeeper from Wolff to Carsten Lichtlein.

It was not the keeper, but a young replacement player, who returned Germany’s hope: Julius Kühn, who was substituted in to the starting list for injured Christian Dissinger, played his best international match so far. When the 22-year-old left back scored his fifth, the result was again levelled at 26:26.

As the tension rose, Erevik grew even more. With two extraordinary saves, he prevented Germany from equalising twice three minutes before the end.

Norway were still ahead 27:26 when the final minute began. But 19 seconds before the final whistle, Dahmke scored to equalise at 27:27, and when the Norwegians failed in their last attack, extra time was needed to decide the semi-final for the first time in Men’s EHF EURO history.

The teams remained equal, and as both count on young squads, neither lacked any power. Scoring his tenth goal from his tenth attempt, Reichmann provided the Germans with a 31:30 lead at the break, and nothing was decided until the final shot.

When the match seemed destined for a second period of extra time, Kai Häfner – another replacement player, who came in for Steffen Weinhold, was brave enough to jump over the Norwegian defence and scored to put the score at 34:33, devastating the Scandinavians with seconds left.

Germany’s opponent for Sunday’s final in Krakow is still to be decided in the second semi, Spain vs Croatia.

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Update 22:38 hrs: Norway have officially lodged a protest following the match against Germany. They have now until 30 January, 9:00 hrs to put the protest in writing. A decision by the EHF Disciplinary Commission will follow until 12:00 hrs the same day.

written by Bjorn Pazen / cg