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Unpredictable Russia seeks gold in Olympic debut
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19:41, August 22, 2008

As an Olympic debutant though, highly favored Russia will meet Norway in the final of Beijing Olympic women's handball on Saturday.

It was the third straight time for Russia and Norway to meet in the final of major international handball tournaments. The two teams clashed in the European championship final in 2006. Though they lost the continental title to Norway 24-27, the Russians took a revenge in the following year's final of the world championship, defending the throne 29-24.

Three times world titlist Russia's biggest threat in Saturday's final will come from themselves instead of the Norwegians.

As their coach Evgeny Trefilov put it, the Russian team is "mysterious". Having won three world titles in 2001, 2005 and 2007, they never managed a ticket in the Olympic Games. And the Russian squad remained inconsistent in Beijing, with their matches often featuring an ill-form half time.

In their opening game against South Korea, Russia enjoyed a comfortable nine points lead midway in the second half. But the world titlist suffered a nightmare in the final quarter of the game, with all the advantage nibbled and both sides tied 29-29 in the end.

In the quarterfinal, Russia also suffered an early setback, trailing France, fifth placer in the 2007 World Champiponship, with a four points deficit in the first half. Luckily the Russians regained their tempo in time to even the score after the break and upset the opponent in the second extra time.

The Croatian men's handball squad legendized themselves in 1996 Atlanta Games after winning the gold medal on their Olympic debut. If the Russian women want to follow suit, they have to conquer the inconsistency in their performance.

And the Norwegian side will not be willing to provide an easy win to Russia. The reigning European champion and world champ in 1999 is bidding to perfect their title collection in Beijing.

Center back Gro Hammerseng of Norway could pose great trouble to the opponent. As the IHF World Handball Player of the Year in 2007, the team skipper always remained in the driving seat during Norway's all-win record in Beijing.

Source: Xinhua

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3 Great Britain 17 12 11 40
4 Russia 16 16 20 52
5 Australia 11 13 14 38
6 Germany 11 14 14 39
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