The Spectacle

I sometimes ask myself: who is that guy with a painted face, standing in the audience and holding the scarf of his favorite team? Is he an amateur handball player or a sedentary person, a father or a rebel, a kiddo or a smarty?  Besides geography, what sets him apart from a fan screaming at his home tv screen?

A couple of years ago, before having subscribed to any forum, I had no idea there were any people out there that could name each Romanian squad, from 1999 until now, let alone some that could recall specific matches of our team over the past decade. I lived all of those, and memorized them in detail, without ever sharing them with anyone besides some of my close ones. I never painted my face or bought a player’s T-shirt , but I did cry in 1999 because of France, in 2000 because of Ukraine and Hungary, in 2001 because of Angola…  Boy, we went through a lot since then, didn’t we?

However, players need to have what they call a good atmosphere in order to perform. In that respect, I feel I haven’t done any good to my favorite team. Some images will always stay with me, as the 2008 display by Macedonian handball fans, on the occasion of their last participation in a major competition (sigh!).

picture: http://www.ehf-euro.com

Two years afterwards, audiences travelled to Denmark. Back in Romania, we had reports from some members of the sport365 forum saying the atmosphere was surprisingly entertaining and grand. Unlike the previous illustration that had to do with national identity, I believe the “Danish wave” was more of a reaction to the absolute handball show. In other words, the spectacle offered by the players generated a response of similar quality.

Moving into the third dimension that is The Champions League, we discover a more powerful audience. Last winter, a game was delayed in Moraca because of the white confetti thrown from the stands by ALL the spectators.  The image was mesmerizing, a winter fairy tale which only lasted seconds. Actually, the players might not have seen it as they were yelling out their encouragements meanwhile.  This is less a statement of love for a team, than it is for a place, a sports hall, theirs.

picture: http://varvari.me/

Finally, Valcea’s Traian Hall has always been a place of particular expression. Personal messages addressed to players and coaches  are usually intense. Here you have one saying “Elisei, your devotion engenders our respect”. The incomparable Valentina Ardean Elisei was celebrated many times there, but this is probably the most honest and simple declaration ever written on white canvas, in a handball hall.

picture: ORV group on Facebook

Girls With Epées, Teams With Balls

It rarely happens to find an opinion article on handball in the Romanian press. I should say this happens in only one place: Radu Naum’s blog. In my search for a colorful opinion on Oltchim’s performance so far, I came across this post of his on the Romanian Women’s Epée Team.  Today, four girls represent all that was once good and successful in our country and is now lost, the last drop of water in a hitch-hiker’s bottle.

These girls have all won individual medals people do not care about as much as they do about their multiple European and World team titles. As in gymnastics, as in handball, the public appreciates a team when he sees one a tad more than the deeds of a bright individual. These four girls have told the press they are NOT friends, but that they are a team when it counts. It made me think about our coach begging his handball players to “Help each other in defense!” as if this was an act of graciousness and not an unconditional duty towards the team.

The four fencers just told us the secret when it comes to performing well – do not expect to build friendships, but teams – a secret that Martin Ambros knows better than any other coach in Champions League. An explanation like: “Adina Meirosu and Oana Manea work well together on court because they are close friends” has no place in Estella. There, Begona Fernandez will be as efficient assisted by Oana Soit, by Sandy Barbosa or by the bland Andrea Barno.  It is not a question of who likes who, but of who does what. Clear tasks set up by the coach in order to make a team work in its ensemble, from wing to pivot (do I have to remind you how Spain scored that last-second goal against Romania at the 2009 WCh? Guess not), will support a fantastic handball machine, with fewer individuals and more than one functioning mechanisms.

In contrast, Romania has focused on building two-way relations that once broken, become fatal. Just have a look at Ionela Stanca in Oltchim’s last season, after Cristina Neagu stopped playing! The loss of this axis alone was probably more important than Cristina’s goals, because it represented the perfusion that  artificially kept us alive throughout all those matches.

Take Begona Fernandez out of Itxako, AND Nerea Pena, AND Oana Soit, replace them with not such quality players, and the machine will work just as fine.

Champions League: Day 2

 

We are already two weeks into the Women’s Champions League.

Krim Mercator vs. Viborg 31:25

The much awaited confrontation was a head case, as every Krim-VHK match ever was one. An insurmountable lead of ten can kill a game by silencing the chaser, but it can also create a spectacle. Pirouettes, dives, jumps – we got all the spicy ingredients from Andrea Penezic and her countrywoman, little miss Franic. These two are fabulous together and remind me of Koprivnica’s better days. People will recall a great performance from Grubisic, occasioned by some senseless shooting on Viborg’s side. She did save a penalty taken by Grit Jurack and that is something to brag about, as it was exactly what a save should look like: perfect positioning of the body, the narrowing of the angle to a maximum and a confident reaction.  A beauty!

Oltchim vs. Dinamo 31:26

This was a classical piece of handball. A Russian back court shooting whenever, wherever, making troubble for an arduous Romanian defence until… it didn’t. Ardean-Elisei brings Kochetova to a standstill, Khmyrova colides with Vizitiu and the spectators are on their feet. And I haven’t even mentioned the exciting parts: the Manea-Stanca-Vetkova triplet working wonders on both fronts, Vizitiu giving Voina one slap after another with every (spectacular) goal scored, girls finally taking defence seriously. On the Russian side, a lot of determination and gut allowed for this show to take place. It was everything a game should look like in the opening rounds.  Coming back to serious matters, I think Dinamo’s loss against Itxako, at home, will cost them the qualification.

Buducnost vs. Byasen 28:18

Last week-end, I ended up watching Buducnost vs. Byasen  just because one ought to see every minute of Popovic’s last years in handball. Other than that,  Buducnost allowed itself to play bad and really bad to finally win by ten in front of a modest team. All for the sake of having an accessible competition, in order to make handball more known, bla, bla, bla! In other words, 16 teams are too much for today’s women’s handball and Byasen scoring under 20 goals per match proves the point exactly.

Gyori ETO vs. Metz 28:23

I watched Metz more carefully than Gyor in this match. The latter is clearly lacking some composure in both attack and defense. The highlight of their game was Anita on the left wing. On the other side, la poupée russe, Katia Andryushina  reminded us how women’s handball is in desperate need of some no 17s. Against this team, Randers will surely go for a consistent advantage on home court where they feel unbeatable. It is outside Denmark things will get tricky, the French being a hard nut to crack for Dalby & co.

A Word On

GF World Cup 

There was almost no surprise in Russia, Norway and France taking the podium in Denmark. The triplet will divide and conquer again, in Brazil.

Days after Romania’s performance, the sensitive side took over. So, I am thinking: let Amariei and Bradeanu finish the winning streak started in 1999, at another World Championship! This in no one else’s job. And stop complaining about coaching and selection making! It is the end of a magnificent chapter in our handball history, but another one, full of surprises and expectations, is about to begin. Let it be written anew, not based on mourning and insult!

Two teams caught  my attention in different ways: Germany and Denmark.

Germany does not inspire much in terms of individuals. However, the thought of a team trying to redeem itself makes it appealing. Germany has so many available players that it is impossible to decide on a player the team depends on the most. Not even Grit Jurack is indispensable. This reflects the balanced level of their internal league. Whereas Danes will talk of talent, Germans will talk of efficiency. It does not give the audience the most spectacular handball, but it creates excitement and uncertainty in regard to the final standing of a major competition.

Decimated by injuries, Denmark does not look as strong as it did last year. Their girls are mentally weak and will let go when it is the least expected. With two playmakers out, Berit Kristiansen and Laerke Møller, pivot action is lacking, as the opponents focus on Dalby, Jørgensen, Skov or Troelsen. Troelsen is not a complete shooter as she is, let alone under careful supervision. And so, a lot of responsibility falls on Rikke Skov, who is more of a team player than someone who can turn around matches. It is worrying to see that a team with such a fountain of talented young players cannot enter the arena of the grands yet.

Champions league: Day 1

We have three disputed groups:  Oltchim-Dimano-Itxako, Gyor-Metz-Randers and Viborg-Larvik-Krim are pretty decent fights of which we hardly known the winner in advance. The weakest link remaining, for Main Round, would be second place in Group A. FCM? With Laerke Møller? Maybe the ideal exception. While we are at it, I place my bets on Herbert Müller.

Next week will bring some answers to the questions we have asked until now:

1. Is the motivation really lacking in Oltchim?

2. Has anything changed in Dinamo since last year? Can they be exciting main-rounders instead of a laughing stock?

3. What is the power of Metz against a strong team? can Randers dream of making a sensation this season?

4. How decisive can Gyor’s lack of depth become?

5. Is one of the most interesting battles in Champions League, Krim-VHK, back in fashion?