LONDON (Reuters) - Olympic champions Norway continued their dominance of the women's handball when they came alive in the London Olympics semi-finals to beat South Korea 31-25 on Thursday.
Marshalled by world player of the year Heidi Loke in attack and Katrine Haraldsen in goal they moved serenely into a second successive final and will face either Spain or Montenegro, neither of whom have played an Olympic final.
Questioned about their teamwork and commitment during a lackluster group campaign, Norway responded in the most determined fashion as they dominated their Asian opponents in all facets of the game.
Korea's Sim Haein scored the game's first goal but there was barely a whimper from the crowd, who erupted seconds later when Marit Frafjord hit back then added another from which point on it was one-way traffic.
World and European champions Norway buzzed around the court and Loke top-scored with eight goals to condemn twice Olympic champions South Korea, who they also beat four years ago in the semi-finals, to another bronze-medal scrap.
"Earlier in the championship we were not running so much, but we're in really good shape and we are now running all the time. This is the way Norway plays so we have to do that," said Loke.
The teams met in the group stages and the pulsating encounter ended 27-27, but with Norway entering the semi-final having scraped past Brazil and South Korea's confidence high after dispatching Russia, the Asians were fancied.
Norway coach Thorir Hergeirsson said the quarter-final scare against Brazil, when they came back from six goals down in the second half to win 21-19, had woken his team up.
"I think in the second half against Brazil we came back to ourselves. We were doubting our qualities but we worked hard to get our identity back. When the girls get back to themselves there are few teams that are better," the Icelander said.
Korea coach Kang Jae-won just wished the competition had stayed in the Copper Box instead of switching to the Basketball Arena on Wednesday.
"The players' lack of experience showed today. They were overwhelmed by the enormous crowd and atmosphere," he told reporters through an interpreter.
Hergeirsson had sympathy for his crestfallen counterpart.
"Many of our players have been playing the Champions League so they know this kind of game. Korea are younger and less experienced. This was a big benefit for Norway," he told Reuters.
Crowd support or not, Norway ran their socks off and Goril Snorroeggen walked with an ice pack under her foot in the news conference room.
All the same, Haraldsen's shot-stop rate of 52 per cent, compared to her opposing number Ju Hui's 37, played a big part in keeping Norway ahead but like most handball players she would not take any plaudits.
"We stay together," she said. "That's what's good about this team."
Edited by Greg Stutchbury