The defending champions from France are on the brink of elimination from the medal race at the EHF EURO 2016 after they lost 24:29 to Norway, the biggest surprise package of the tournament, on the last day of main round action in Group 1 in Krakow.
Kent Robin Tonnesen, who was also named the best player of the match, scored six goals and was backed by a great team performance. The Scandinavians will now play for the medals for the first time in EHF EURO history. Their previous best at the European championship was sixth in 2008 when they hosted the tournament.
"We almost feel like in a fairy tale. It is unbelievable," said Norway's Magnus Jondal. "When we came to Poland, our goal was to reach some points and get through the first round and now we are in the semi-final. When we advanced to the main round and beat Poland we knew everything was possible."
France, who were led by seven goals from Daniele Narcisse, have to hope that Croatia beat Poland between five and 10 goals, to take part in the semi-finals. If Croatia win by more than 10, they will take the last semi-final place.
Norway did not have the best start to the game. Just two days after their counter-attacks and second waves were breaking on Macedonia’s defence, they were stopped by an impregnable French barricade in the early stages of the match.
Christian Berge's charges also struggled to find their rhythm and deploy their usual speedy game due to the impressive performance of Thierry Omeyer, who entered the game in the same stellar fashion as he did against Belarus in the previous match, stopping six of the first nine shots.
It was only after France increased their lead to 7:4 that the Scandinavians began to find cracks in the defence as they simultaneously improved their own interruption of the French shooters. Courtesy of a 4:0 run powered mostly by great play from captain Bjarte Myrhol on the line, they romped to the first lead in the game just after the 20-minute mark.
Myrhol, who started the game with a two-minute suspension after just 49 seconds, was instrumental for Norway as he passed the 500-goal milestone in the national team and led the charge in the beginning of the second half.
Norway goalkeeper Ole Erevik stole the spotlight after the break, and with 15 minutes left when the Scandinavians held a 22:19 advantage, Vincent Gerrard replaced Omeyer in the French goal.
With 10 minutes to go Tonnesen extended the gap to four goals under the pressure of passive play for a shorthanded Norway. When the reigning European champions showed no signs of improvement in the last minutes, Norway held on to send shockwaves through Europe and were rewarded with a standing ovation from the sold-out crowd in TAURON Arena.
"We played without any rhythm. Their goalkeeper was really good. We didn't play well against their pivot. He had scored three times in the competition before but tonight he played really well," said France left wing Michael Guigou. "We didn't play a good match, individually and collectively. We played great matches against the wrong teams and not against the good ones."