No – this is not another expensive fragrance made-in Paris or new brand of champagne from Reims the quaint de facto capital of the Champagne-Ardenne region in France.
Although it may well be that champagne will be the drink of choice once again for Camilla Herrem (27) the buoyant left-winger of the Norwegian national handball team at the end of year 2013. A year that began with a series of disappointing events like economically threatening news for her club Byasen Trondheim followed by the treatment of a nagging foot injury. Already in February after consulting with her club management she decided to go ahead with surgery to remove a piece of bone that was apparently wrecking a partially torn achilles tendon. Things looked bleak by mid-year and the only bright spot appeared to be Herrem’s upcoming wedding with handball player Steffen Stegavik in July. At the ceremony she was joined by her national teammates Linn-Jorum Sulland, Karo Dyhre-Breivang and Tonje Nostvold amongst others. Little did Camilla know at the time that she would be reunited with all three of them during the last phase of preparation for this year’s World Cup in Serbia. Nothing must have been further from her mind when she left Sola to celebrate her honeymoon on the Maldive Islands according to well-informed Norwegian news outlets.
Meanwhile Herrem’s long time rival Linn Gossé (27) from Tertnes IL (Bergen) was getting ready to take the abandoned number one spot on Norway’s left-wing. Her time had come and the only direct competitor in the fifteen “landskampe” of 2013 so far appeared to be Sanna Solberg (23) the twin sister of national goalkeeper Silje Solberg. Other equally qualified players like Thea Mork (Larvik HK) or Charlotte Mordal (Issy Paris) did not seem to play a serious role in the planning of Hergeirsson – at least not for World Cup 2013.
When the national coach announced the group of players that will represent Norway in December including Herrem and dropping Gossé many were caught by surprise. “Handball Norway” had split opinions about Herrem’s premature return to the national team while Gossé was destined to stay home once again. Not every handball fan understood this seemingly unpopular decision. Some of the country’s self-proclaimed handball experts outright down played the controversial choice as quickly as daylight disappears at this time of the year in continental Europe’s most northern country. Herrem herself could hardly believe that she had made the “cut” this time. Prior to Thorir’s press conference most everybody was questioning who would fill the apparent open slot on the right wing of the team – Maja Jacobsen or Stine Skogrand? Yes – Herrem had remained an option but Gossé’s spot on the roster seemed to be assured given her participation in fourteen of the fifteen games with the national handball team in 2013. When Hergeirsson and Hoegdahl explained the “causa” Herrem to Norway’s media representatives they used words like “championship experience” and “winning mentality”. But was the decision really that simple? That obvious?
Maybe it was Gossé’s somewhat sub-par performance in the two most recent qualification games for EURO 2014 against Romania? Or the fact that Solberg had outscored Gossé on the national team level 44:34 so far this year? Why did Sanna make the team and not Linn? The answer to the aforementioned question is more complex and cannot be reduced to a discussion of who is the better player on left-wing – Herrem or Gossé?
If this was the case Hergeirsson and Hoegdahl may as well have rolled the dice and accepted a random outcome as a mere statistical analysis between the two rivals does not produce a clear vote for Herrem either. In the two big tournaments of 2012 (Olympic Games and EURO) Norway’s left-wingers contributed 13% and 12% to the overall scoring of 196 goals in London and 219 in Serbia respectively. While Herrem’s quote of 7.6% was slightly better compared with Kari-Mette Johansen’s 5% at the London Olympic’s, her record was dead-even with Gossé during EURO 2012. Both players awarded 6% each to the overall goal score of team Norway. They also had similar shot efficiencies of 59% and 57%. In fact Gossé’s result looked even better as her time spent on the court at EURO 2012 was significantly less (3:06 hrs.) when compared to Herrem (5:07 hrs.).
So why Herrem and not Gossé? Winning a championship is first and foremost about defense. Ever since the shoulder injury of Marit-Malm Frafjord and the pregnancy of Kristine Lunde-Borgersen rebuilding team Norway’s central defense has required utmost attention from Hergeirsson and his coaching staff. Having to replace these two veteran players represents no easy task given the general unavailability of Goril Snoroeggen and Gro Hammerseng-Edin quickly rejecting the idea of a come-back. Team captain Frafjord will also be missed as a relief to line player Heidi Loke in offense. More recently Loke herself has become a question mark given a minor knee injury.
With so much uncertainty surrounding the positions in central defense and pivot as well as a host of injury-plagued players Hergeirsson decided to play it safe on left-wing and opted for the experience of Herrem that he had lost elsewhere on the team. Like a serious trader on Wall-Street (a rare species but they do exist) Norway’s national coach has been looking for optionality to protect his and the team’s opportunity of winning the big year-end event again. Apparently, Linn Gossé does not offer what he expects to be in need of most – another alternative but not necessarily on left-wing only. On the other hand Sanna Solberg seems to provide exactly that – a different look offensively and a hedge in case Thorir decides to play a 5:1 defensive system as TV2’s Stig Nygard has correctly pointed out. A line-up that may come in handy considering Montenegro’s powerful back-court players M. Knezevic and K. Bulatovic who scored 18 of the 34 goals in last year’s EURO final against Norway.
Like Gossé, Herrem is not expected to be Norway’s “Go To” option when the game is on the line but she can be that player as she has successfully proven in previous tournaments. The timely healing of Camilla’s foot injury may very well help to conceal team Norway’s true “achilles heel” at World Cup 2013 – central defense. Linn Gossé will be watching.
/ J. Schutz