TOKYO (Reuters) – Norway began their quest for a record-equalling third Olympic gold medal in women’s handball with a 39-27 victory over Asian powerhouse South Korea on Sunday, while Brazil frustrated the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) in a 24-24 draw.
Rio 2016 bronze medallists Norway dominated the opening half of their Group A clash – a rematch of the Barcelona 1992 final which the Koreans won for the second of their two gold medals – surging ahead 18-10 after hitting the post several times.
The European champions raised their level after the break as the latest encounter between the two most decorated teams in the women’s game threatened to turn into a thrashing, before South Korea staged a comeback only to fall short in the end.
“South Korea are such a strong team and so good at smaller passes… so we weren’t expecting this result… this was above all our expectations,” Norway left wing Camilla Herrem said.
“There were nerves at the start, but after some minutes our defence got better and we had the perfect goalkeeper.”
Earlier, Brazil defended resolutely to throw Olympic champions ROC off their game at Tokyo’s Yoyogi National Stadium and were unlucky not to snatch an upset win in the dying seconds as Bruna de Paula’s throw from distance was blocked.
Russian athletes are competing as representatives of the ROC – without their country’s flag – due to doping sanctions.
“They’re the current champions. Russia is always Russia. We have a lot of newcomers in our team for the Olympics, so it’s an achievement,” Brazil goalkeeper Barbara Arenhart, who saved nine shots, said.
“We showed to ourselves that we can fight equally with everyone. This is our heart. Our game is a lot in our defence.”
Sweden handed world championship silver medallists Spain a crushing 31-24 defeat before Rio Games runners-up France endured a nervy finish to their match against Hungary, winning 30-29.
A day after hosts Japan were hammered by champions Denmark in the men’s event, their women’s team made a disappointing start to their unlikely bid to win a first Games gold medal with a 32-21 defeat by the Netherlands.
Dutchwoman Lois Abbingh fired in seven goals for the Rio 2016 semi-finalists, who took control in the opening half by going up 18-10 and never lost their grip on the match.
Montenegro’s Jovanka Radicevic sparkled with 12 goals in their 33-22 win over minnows Angola.
(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru; Editing by Hugh Lawson)