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Netherlands, Brazil and Russia are the three main candidates to stop Norway from winning their third consecutive Olympic Games women's handball gold medal at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. Apart from their triumphs at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games and the London 2012 Olympic Games, the Scandinavians are the reigning world and European champions and the team everyone wants to beat as the handball starts at the Future Arena in Rio on Saturday.
"It won't be as easy for Norway here as in the other years. We lost to them in the final at the 2015 world championship and now of course we want revenge," said Dutch winger Angela Malestein.
A year ago, the Dutch had a fifth place from the 2005 world championship as their best international result, finishing 13th and 15th in the competition's last two editions. Then the young team took silver at the 2015 world championship, won their Olympic qualifying tournament and are now considered one of the biggest obstacles for Norway's Rio 2016 campaign. Confidence is high in the Dutch camp according to Michelle Goos, who thinks Norway can be beaten, but hopes to avoid them before the final.
Brazil rely on the home crowd to help take them back to their world championship winning shape from 2013. Captain Fabiana Diniz, who will retire from handball after the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, is one of 11 world champions in the experienced 14-woman squad facing Norway in the opening match.
"We have done a lot of work in the last Olympic cycle and to play at home can be a huge plus for us," the 35-year-old pivot said. "It makes us favourites being in Brazil, but they are also favourites as the reigning world and Olympic champions. We have a great respect for them.”
Apart from Brazil, Montenegro are the only other team to have denied Norway a big international title since 2009. The London 2012 silver medallists beat the Scandinavians in extra time in the European championship final in 2012, taking revenge for the 26-23 defeat in the London Games gold medal match.
Beijing 2008 finalist Russia and last year's world championship bronze medallists Romania, lead by two-time International Handball Federation World Player of the Year Cristina Neagu, will also fight for medals.
If none of the 11 other teams can stop the Nordic machinery from winning another title, Norway’s Kari Aalvik Grimsbo, Katrine Lunde and Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth Koren would become the only women in history to have won three Olympic handball gold medals.