Henny Reistad scored 15 times, including the winner goal.. IHF

The Women's Handball World Championship will go down to the wire on Sunday after both France and Norway have fulfilled the prediction of meeting for the fifth time in a world championship final at 19:00 in Herning, Denmark.

But they did so in very different ways. The Norwegian side needed extra time in an impressive match against the Danish hosts. It was decided by a superb goal from Henny Reistad (15 goals from 17 shots). Meanwhile, the French defeated Sweden in a second semi-final that began with an astonishing performance from goalkeeper Laura Glauser (3-13). 

However, France's subsequent victory meant that Denmark qualified for the Olympic Games for the first time since London 2012, thanks to their silver medal at the last European Championships, where they lost to Norway in the final. The hosts, France, have the Olympic ticket and the Norwegians will also be at the Games as finalists in Herning on Sunday. So the ticket they won at the European Championships went to the Danes.

Denmark's defence surprised the reigning champions with an intense and suffocating 6-0 formation that overwhelmed their opponents, with Line Haugsted doing a great job and Louise Burgaard attacking the passing line. They managed to stop Nora Mork (only three goals from the seven-metre line) and thwarted the formidable talent of Stine Oftedahl for many minutes. 

Pivot Kathrine Heindahl broke the Norwegian defence with four goals in a row (5-1, min. 6:48), and Oftedahl spurred her team to close the gap to 5-4. However, the hosts dominated every game situation, showcasing their superiority and establishing a five-goal lead after a spectacular goal from Camila Jorgensen (10-5). 

Reistad's three goals kept the Norwegians in contention (12-8), despite an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Althea Reinhardt, who concluded the first half with an astonishing 47% efficiency (seven saves and eight goals conceded) and guided her team to a 14-9 halftime lead. Frankly, the margin could have been larger. 

Denmark and Norway played the best match of the tournament. IHF
Denmark and Norway played the best match of the tournament. IHF

The second half presented a different scenario, with the key influencers not being Mork, the exceptional Oftedahl, or even Henny Reistad's proficient goal-scoring. It was Maren Aardahl, a 1.83-metre pivot playing for Odense in Denmark, who notably elevated her team's defensive performance. 

She inspired her teammates and also managed to score in an empty net. Her efforts were complemented by Reistad's goals to reduce the deficit and Denmark had possession of the ball, presenting an opportunity at the 50th minute to equalize for the first time. 

On the third attempt, Reistad scored (22-22, min. 57:30), followed by Solberg bringing it to 22-23. Burgaard received a two-minute suspension, and Jorgensen forced the game into overtime in a last-second penalty (23-23). However, the most concerning news of all was the serious injury suffered by Heidahl from Denmark. 

The last ten minutes were thrilling and the standout performer was Reistad, who boosted her tally to 15 goals with only two missed shots. Reinhardt secured her 14th save and the score was tied after the first overtime period (25-25). Following two successful penalties by Jorgensen, the game transitioned into a decisive Norwegian offensive. 

Reistad then sealed the deal, netting her 15th goal from an eight-metre distance, ultimately securing Norway's passage to the final with a score of 28-29. What an extraordinary semi-final! 

France, determined to eliminate any surprises, initiated the game with an authoritative display. The reigning Olympic champions showcased an impenetrable defence, with Glauser resembling a wall guarding the goal. 

Les Bleus exhibited a swift attacking strategy, leaving no room for their opponents and seizing a commanding 3-13 lead by the 18th minute following two timeouts by the Swedish team. Jamina Robert was sidelined, leaving pivot Linn Blohm (who scored 4/4 in the first period) as the sole force to keep 'Yellows' with options.

Laura Glauser, MVP of the second semi-final. IHF
Laura Glauser, MVP of the second semi-final. IHF

The halftime score stood at 11-19, prompting Oliver Krumbholz to rest his key player, Estelle Nze Minko, potentially in anticipation of Sunday's final.  With a considerable deficit, the Scandinavians needed a big change to get back into the game... Could they do it? 

They showed resilience with an admirable comeback, as Jenny Carlson netted three goals to narrow the gap to 15-20. Despite their valiant efforts, it wasn't enough to avoid the loss to Les Bleus, an impressive team who regained their largest lead in the final minutes (22-32).

France won 37-28 to set up a fifth meeting with Norway for the gold medal in Herning on Sunday at 19:00. The Scandinavians hold a 3-1 advantage in the head-to-head clashes in the World Championship finals. They secured clear victories in 2011 (32-24 with an astonishing performance from double Olympic champion Kristine Lunde-Borgensen) and at the last edition in 2021 (29-22 with six goals from Henny Reistad, the start of the semi-final against Denmark in Herning with 15 goals). Norway also beat France 25-24 after extra time in 1999 and lost 23-21 in 2017.