Repost. The IHF Olympic Qualification Tournament #1 Lyon: A review

Montenegro rising

France, the conqueror of a mighty army of medal contenders last winter, in Brazil, must question its short-handed back court line. Alexandra Lacrabère, troubled by injuries during the spring season, could not cope with the meanders of a strong and driven defence. And that is exactly what this Montenegrin defence was: feeding from within, from both wins and defeats, an outburst of pride. Most importantly, it is a thoroughly worked sector of their game, mastered by coach Dragan Adžić.

Olivier Krumbholz discussed what made the difference between the two teams on the last day: aside from the obvious lack of attacking ideas, “in Montenegro one can behave maturely at 22, whilst in France, this does not happen at 30” (source). Looking at his roster, we deduce he’s referring to taking responsibility, thus opposing Milena Knežević to someone like Sophie Herbrecht or Amélie Goudjo. What he did not say or did not want to consider, is that the match was a revelation for Knežević herself and that it will become a reference in regard to her future ratings.

This slight motivation drop on the French side, previously nourished by a massive correction in Skopje, has to be fixed in a few months’ time. The factors that interfered with them medaling in Beijing were problems within the group and in preparation. This time, Krumbholz repents and starts, not without fear, from another standpoint. Some facts keep him going: his team is based on a young and powerful generation, who has hardly exhausted its resources. His team has two goalkeepers who have made their way to success in pair (counter-examples: Győr, Croatia, Germany). His team has been confronted with failure post-Brazil. So instead of bearing the pressure of one wintery result, they can go on with testing and fixing playing systems, which is what they do best.

This last point is supported by the Montenegrins’ recent experience: disastrous WCh followed by a blossoming spring.

The bottom runners, Romania and Japan, have confirmed their current status. The former has delayed its generation change to the point where a counter-performance occurred twice in one season (WC and OQT), reducing them to outsiders of top handball. Meanwhile, the latter has been challenging and pushing the opponent into unknown territory, becoming an inspiration for the European powerhouses, both game and mentality -wise.

Gabriela Perianu and Eliza Buceschi, two of the most promising Romanian youth players, have started their senior team career with two failures: WCh and OQT. With them and with some other well hidden names, Romania will have to rebound in two to three years’ time in order to take back Brazil.

Despite its surprising mental block against France, Japan was a crowd-pleaser. While the commentator was referring to the Romanian side as “the beautiful team of Romania”, the audience was cheering loudly for Japan’s comeback in their last Lyonese game. So maybe Romania is beautiful, but only in retrospective.

Last but not least, I would underline Bojana Popović’s role in the course of this week-end’s events. She was player, colleague, coach, mother; she gave them water when they were thirsty. Highlight of the last day: the Popović – Krumbholz clash from the distance. At a legitimate two minute suspension for France, the coach throws his arms into the air in disagreement. A regal Popović turns to him and settles the account with an icy look and an imposing gesture. She had not stepped on French land as a guest, but as a conqueror.

I hope that happiness will remain here, with this club” she said after winning the EHF Champions League (source). Her kingdom is rising. Her legacy? The continuous quest for excellence.

LOH

Results:

MNE – JPN 30:24 (14:13)

FRA – ROU 24:19 (12:9)

ROU – MNE 23:34 (13:17)

JPN – FRA 17:30 (7 :13)

ROU – JPN 28 :26 (18 :10)

FRA – MNE 20 :22 (9 :9)

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Repost. The pursuit of steadiness

An idealistic overview of leadership issues at the end of the Olympic cycle*

The coincidence of several events has influenced the course of women’s European club handball. The economic crisis, the leading cause of some drastic movements on the transfer market, has been long discussed. Other events are related to the natural curve of one’s handball life: the end of another Olympic cycle and subsequent retirement. This article will tackle the implications of a generation’s end of contract and the typology of leadership in the top European clubs of our times.

The traditional contenders Randers, Viborg and Budućnost, will be deprived of the mental and physical prowess of some of their leaders: Katrine Fruelund, Grit Jurack and Bojana Popović. Fruelund was the community person who ended her career by winning the national championship with her childhood club. Jurack was the leader by example, with courage and initiative. Popović – the mother figure who protects and cares for. All of the sudden, their former teams are expected to grow, with patience and skill, new main characters. While Viborg can temporarily count on Rikke Skov, Randers will still be guarded by Chana Masson, whereas Budućnost can only hope a true leader will rise in three to four years, just in time for a new cycle.

But are patience, cyclic planning and time investment still of relevance to our times and markets? As it turns out, teams are forced to give up on their best players, the ones expected to develop passion on top of passion – commitment to a team, to an audience, to a town and to a nation on top of their love for handball. We are therefore witnessing the regrouping of handball’s top players on account of financial temptation and short term planning. For instance, Metz and Itxako have lost their cornerstones: goalkeepers Amandine Leynaud and Silvia Navarro (incidentally to the same team, Oltchim Rm. Valcea). Both of them have been a true inspiration for their former communities. Retrospectively, the dismantling of Viborg in summer 2010, when the Lunde sisters and Popović left the club just like they had arrived, all at once, was a key moment in the transformation of values.

During the past few years, young players with immense potential have given hope to those who still believed in building teams for the future. Thus, Oltchim tried to build around Cristina Neagu, while Krim Ljubljana let go of their illustrious past and put Andrea Lekić in charge of their game plan. The future could not have looked brighter until Neagu went to surgery and Lekić went to Hungary. Health and seek of personal achievement have interfered with the plans of their respective clubs. Consequently, many foreign players were brought to compensate for the abandoned dream: the making of a team true in spirit and in character to the nation and the town that support it.

A symbol of hope in the current state of events is Anita Görbicz, the exception, probably the only star player with long term affective bonds. She may be the only moral reason why Györ should be regarded as the top seeded team in the Champions League. The other teams will spend time searching for a common language, something already within Györ’s reach.

As we look through the history books, we discover the names of Indira Kastratović, Marijana Bulatović, Snezana Petika and Heidi Astrup, players who have been committed to a single team. Does today’s handball world still allow us to have those types of players in top clubs after Görbicz, Skov, Tatari and Bodnieva? Or should we turn our heads towards not so glowing lands in order to find respected leaders? I wonder if we will still have role models or if this is the end of their kind, if it is possible to remain authentic while satisfying someone else’s thirst for true glory. Is there a time for business and another time for pleasure?

*This text was written several weeks ago and does not take into account the financial situation of CS Oltchim Rm. Valcea.

Repost. Best of 2011/2012: The MVP

The aim of the series was to sum up the highlights of the previous season, with emphasis on the World Championship and the Olympic Games. In choosing the Most Valuable Player of the season, I have also considered club level.

Truth be told, this is a tribute to a player’s career and final year in the elite. Never before had she scored over a hundred goals in one Champions League season. Never before had she reached the ChL final with her home club. Finally, and most importantly, never before had she attained such success at a final tournament of nations. Indeed, I believe that the apex of Bojana Popović’s career must be rewarded: to retire in full glory with no reserves is evidence of her work ethic and visionary approach.

A promise kept

Never have I had this feeling of complete celebration when I won the Champions League in Denmark. I imagined what it would be like to win the trophy in Podgorica, celebrating the title for months! Four times in a row I have played a ChL semi-final with the Blues. In Denmark I won the trophy five times. It was logical to come back, to try to achieve what I once started. (…) The truth is that I dream of the Olympics and that’s the last thing I think of playing in my career.” 4th July 2010, Arena, N°1252

Two years ago, she set two far-fetched objectives for herself: to play the final of the ChL in Podgorica and to take part in the Olympic Games. All her work and efforts focused on achieving these audacious goals. Two years were all she needed to take Budućnost and specifically the Montenegrin NT from third world to world-class.

My objection to the way she implemented her plan is that she did not make concessions when it came to her position in attack. Whatever her efficiency as a shooter in the left back position was, she never withdrew. Meanwhile, the younger Jovanović and Knežević had to play in the centre back, getting fewer direct achievements and more physical work. I have always wondered why Popović did not settle for the centre back position more often in order to give the others, who would have been at least as efficient as she was at scoring, a chance to play in their preferred position.

The mistress of the money-time

“I think luck is really by my side, knowledge is probably not, but somehow I always take trophies and I am thankful for this fortune.” Popović for the EHF website after the ChL final

She only defended one half per match or less in position one. The only way to overlook this drawback is to measure her broader contribution to the team’s performance in terms of leadership and time management, expertise that the best defenders in the world do not possess.

Popović is renowned for her decision making under pressure, generally in the final ten minutes of the game. She is one of the rare kinds who does not acknowledge defeat until the final whistle. She calculates the necessary rate of success and she informs herself constantly on the time left, without scramble. In 2012 “the Popović method” succeeded many times, like in the first leg of the ChL final, when she brought Budućnost from minus five within a two-goal difference in under three minutes.

Finally, at the OG, she orchestrated the final ten minutes of the quarter-final masterfully, breaking down the French defence machine. She was close to a reversal in the final against Norway, but the method only works every other time, as there is one thing to it even Popović can’t control: luck.

The swan song

My dream has come true as well as the rest of the girls. I can’t believe we are in the final! This is a big day for Montenegro. I feel empty now, I have used so much energy, it feels like I am dreaming.” Popović for the official London 2012 website after the OG semi-final

Popović had an average WCh in which she showed mental weakness and lack of fitness. A comparison between her statistics from the 2010 ECh and those from 2011, reveals a severe drop in 9m shooting efficiency, a lack of ideas in the crucial matches (vs. Norway and Spain) and very little personal initiative. This same sort of play could be observed in the group stages of the ChL, which seems to suggest that Popović could not reach the desired level by December. I argue that in terms of physical preparation, she gave up on the WCh in order to save power for the rest of the season.

Oh well, she dried her tears and went on to prove her distinctive nature one last time, at the OG. Her statistics had never looked better, as the OG schedule, with a one-day break between games, fitted her like a glove.

With 46/77 goals and a 60% success rate she finished second-best scorer of the tournament. Her 44 assists in 8 games represent almost twice the number reached by any other player. She scored 14/33 goals from the 9m line, but the interesting part is how she relied more on her individual efforts than at the 2011 WCh or the 2010 ECh: 14/20 goals through breakthroughs and 7/9 from the 6m line.

Quotes

« She is the most talented player I have ever met. She is capable of everything: she can shoot, break through, she is tall (1,85 m). There is genius in this girl. She sees everything but pretends she does not (…) What? She has never won the IHF Player of the Year Award? This is a scandal. She deserves it though. » Olivier Khrumbholz for Le Républicain Lorrain, February 2012

“Her special goal from seven meters in the semi-final against Cecilie Leganger was really amazing. I’ve watched it at least 1000 times! I was wondering all the time whether I would be able to score like this!” Ausra Fridrikas for the EHF website, May 2012

“They are going to have to name cities after her when she retires from handball. Popović has been a true legend of the sport and a wonderful ambassador.” IHF and EHF commentator Paul Bray during a live broadcast at the London Olympics

Repost. Best of 2011/2012: Going down on statistics lane and more (III), The All-Star Team

Goalkeeper: Silvia Navarro

She was the best goalkeeper in Brazil, with an amazing 46% success percentage (108/237). She was ranked fourth at the OG, with 37% (96/258), where she received considerably more playing time than any other top goalkeeper. Her precious contribution helped Spain win two bronze medals during the season. However, on neither occasion was she among the All-Star team players. Best matches: WCh – vs. Montenegro (65%, 28/43), vs. Denmark (54%, 19/35).

Left wing: Emiliya Turey

At the WCh, she was Russia’s top scorer and sixth in the general ranking (44/58; 76%) and was selected on the All-Star team. She was also Russia’s most used player. In London, she was the team’s second-highest scorer (L. Postnova led by one goal) with a 71% success rate. She contributed to her team’s performance by taking penalties and running fast breaks. Best matches: OG – vs. Brazil (7/9), WCh – vs. France (7/8).

Left back: Andrea Penezić

As I have explained in the previous episode, her WCh performance, for which she was awarded an All-Star team spot, was impressive. In London, she was Croatia’s best scorer and tenth in the general ranking. Only an unfortunate injury kept her and the team out of the semi-finals. Best matches: OG – vs. Russia (10/15, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots), vs. Montenegro (9/14, 3 assists).

Centre back: Macarena Aguilar

In Brazil, only she and Carmen Martin reached a >70% success rate. For a winger, this is the demanded quota, but for a centre back, it is a rare achievement. The efficiency is mostly linked to her playing style: most of the goals Aguilar scored came from break throughs (14/15) or from the six-metre line (9/16). She was one of the best assist players of the WCh with thirty and of the OG with thirty-three. She was on neither of the All-Star teams. Best matches: OG – vs. France (2/2, 6 assists), WCh – vs. Denmark (3/5, 5 assists).

Right back: Linn Jørum Sulland

Sulland was the second-best scorer of the WCh and the sixth of the OG. In Brazil, her performance (68%) was better on the whole than her Olympic display (50%). However, it is important to note that she reached her highest level in the final of the tournament, where Norway faced Montenegro. Anyhow, she was throughout the season, Norway’s top scorer and best offensive player. Best matches: OG – vs. Montenegro (10/14, 1 assist), WCh – vs. Montenegro (9/16).

Right wing: Alexandra Do Nascimento

The top scorer of the WCh (57/78, 73%) made her first All-Star team appearance in London. There, she placed fourth in the scorers’ table, although she had played only six games in the tournament. Like Turey or Penezić, she was the most used player of the team. Best matches: OG – vs. Montenegro (8/9), WCh – vs. Spain (7/10, 3 assists, 2 steals).

Line player: Heidi Løke

She was the only player selected on both All-Star teams of the season. Best matches: OG – vs. South Korea (8/9, one assist), WCh – vs. Spain (7/10).

All in all, any of these players could be a candidate for the IHF Player of the Year award, but when it comes to winning, I would exclude those who did not win medals and last year’s winner. I expect Sulland/Løke (a Norwegian is a must), Navarro (Spain will get credit for the good results), Penezić (an “outsider” is always a nice touch to the list), Bulatović (the popular choice) and Do Nascimento (Brazil is also quite esteemed after their exhibition on home soil) to compete. As far as I’m concerned, I have someone else in mind. Stay tuned for the final episode…

Repost. Best of 2011/2012 – Going down on statistics lane and more (II)

Best ChL performance: Anita Görbicz

The Champions League is a competition of long endurance, through which only the very best players walk smoothly, with only a few fluctuations. Görbicz has been one of the constant players of the season, with excellent scoring efficiency all the way to the final games. To illustrate this point, I will use some statistics put together by the Norwegian blogger StevieY. In the first match of the final against Budućnost, she took 17 shots, scored 12 goals and had only two quantifiable mistakes. No other player of the team had as many attempts at scoring, as she was the biggest menace to Woltering and her defence. In the return leg, Görbicz was prominent as well, but with less attempts 9/12 and more TFs/TOs: 4. Otherwise, she hardly ever went bellow those standards in any of the previous games.

Best transfer: Clara Woltering

She turned Budućnost into a world-class team with her skills and fighter genes. The connection with her teammates was and still is electrifying. Rarely have we seen a Western European  integrate a team from this region so well. This was a perfect marriage, which is why I consider her the most fortunate transfer of the season. She had her best days against Oltchim Valcea and Larvik, but where she proved her class was in the decisive last minutes of the final against Györ.

Surprise team of the season: Brazil

If I were to name the teams that didn’t get a medal this past season and that should have, according to my preferences, I would say Croatia (at the OG) and Brazil (at the WCh). The former was already praised in a previous post. I will stop a second and look at the latter.

It is worth reminding that Brazil only lost a game on home soil, the quarter-final against Spain. In London, they knelt before Russia in the group and then, before Norway in the quarter-final.  In both quarter-finals, the victory was within their grasp, but Brazil could not close the gap in the money time. In the future, they will concentrate on that one last step which would grant them the status of “handball power”: reaching the semi-finals of a major competition. Coach Morten Soubak had something similar in mind while in London. Watch the clip.

Their season’s tally of a fifth place at the WCh and a sixth place at the OG remains a historic performance and marks the climax of this generation, with several players that will most likely quit by the next Olympics: Masson, Diniz, Piedade, Pinheiro, Moraes. I will keep Nascimento in the mix, who together with the very talented Brazilian youngsters has a mission to accomplish in Rio: overcome the decisive minutes that separate dreams from reality and win a medal.

Surprise player of the season: Sonja Barjaktarović

Sonja’s class was never under question and her performance this year did not come as a surprise, but as a confirmation. So the actual reason I chose her is the fact she stood out from the star cluster that is Montenegro’s women’s handball team.

At the WCh, she came in late on the team and missed out on the lost encounter with Iceland. She did eventually get her strength back and participated in Montenegro’s last four matches, achieving a 40% save success rate and the 6th place in the goalkeepers’ ranking.  What was to come would amaze the handball world.

She was Montenegro’s MVP at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Lyon, where together with teammate Milena Knezević (and without Bojana Popović), she defeated a prestigious French selection and hit , once again,  the symbolic 40% save rate. The OG tournament would bring out a memorable  act: she excelled  in the most delicate moments, against France (41%) and against Norway (40%).   She ended up in 8th position in the goalkeepers’ ranking, with a 34% success rate, leaving behind her names like Haraldsen, Mortensen, Masson or Sidorova.

Best WCh match: Spain – Brazil

The “Best match” category covers my most fascinating handball experiences of the season. It is impossible to find the balance between attack, defence, individual performances and team play that defines THE best match. Most importantly, it is the drama I refer to when recalling a game. Was it a square fight until the last seconds? Did it have more than one turning point? What did it lead to?

The WCh quarter-final was tense, as the score went backwards and forwards. It was a match with great wing play from both teams. The Spanish defence annihilated the athletic Brazilian back court line and Silvia Navarro capitalized on their work with a 41% save percentage.

But let us take a look at the final minutes of the game. Two and a half minutes before the final whistle, Do Nascimento makes it all square again with a flyer move which overly excites the crowd. At this point, I could have sworn Brazil would take it. But no, with thirty seconds before the end, the scoreboard was still. Brazil’s Deonise Cavalheiro loses the ball and the Spanish wingers rush on counterattack. Elizabeth Pinedo scores, while being unsportingly tackled. Brazil had succumbed to nervousness and given the semi-final spot away. The Spaniards were driven enough to move the ball on fast break when it mattered the most.

Best OG match: France – Montenegro

France’s perfect stroke was broken in two seconds by the proud Montenegrins. In a match where defence and goalkeeping were on a top level on both sides, only small things could separate failure from success. And so it went: one mishandled ball, rolling on the floor, inviting the players to dive forward, decided France’s early exit.

This live recording gives me goosebumps even today: on Montenegro’s final attack, Bulatović misses the pass, Tervel steals the ball (or so she thinks) when Popović throws herself on the ground and dispossesses her. The way she would end her handball career was at stake. So she pulls herself up, pivots, dives before Camille Ayglon and pushes the ball to the left winger. The rest is history: to close the circle of events, it is Bulatović who scores the penalty that takes them to the semi-final.

Best ChL match: Oltchim – Györ

There were several good matches in the ChL spring. Budućnost found the right proportion between robust defending and percutant attacking against Larvik and Györ. The latter was particularly bright in setting up unpredictable attack moves against Itxako, Oltchim or Budućnost. So, finally I could not not choose on of their games, albeit this was a lost game.

Oltchim stepped on the court as a mere pray expecting to be eaten away. They compliantly endured Gyor’s superiority in the first half, took in a humiliating between-the-legs goal just before the break, checked off a minus four loss and came back for more. More … nothing. They had suffered enough and decided to resurrect with fast second wave attack, valiant wing shooting and penetrating back court shots. It all happened in no more than fifteen minutes, a complete turnaround, as Oltchim was leading  by seven. But Gyor had to prove their pedigree and made a decisive comeback in the last ten minutes, closed the gap and left the encounter with only a four-goal handicap. Watch Oltchim’s comeback.

Repost. Best of 2011/2012 – Going down on statistics lane and more (I)

Best newcomer: Louise Burgaard

During the WCh, I made this video for Burgaard. I was actually of the opinion she should have been on the All-Star team instead of her teammate Line Jorgensen. She made a dazzling debut on the NT and will certainly continue in that direction. I expect her to become a rock of the Danish team.

Her results at youth level are not the point of this presentation. It is her WCh debut that I will analyse in detail. She scored 24/36; 67%, in nine matches. For a newcomer, she received enough playing time to show her abilities: ~30min per match. She was almost flawless in one-on-one situations. On the 9m, she was excellent with 14/24; 58%, the most efficient Danish back court player. Under these circumstances, her 1.5  TO/TF per match were not very costly.  At the OQT and at the OG she was assigned to the right wing position and was not as dominant in the game. Even so, her scoring efficiency remained at a high level.

Honourable mention: Ryu Eun Hee

Most improved player: Alexandra Lacrabère

At 24, Lacrabère emerged in Brazil as a constant achiever of the French team. Not only did she score regularly (France’s second best scorer after nine games), but she was also the playmaker of the team towards the end of the tournament (credited for 24 assists).  An in-depth look at the aspects of her game shows she has improved her defence skills and gained a new role in her team.  At the WCh, she spent more time in defence and had more successful interventions, namely 5 steals (compared to one at the 2010 ECh). Her new position, that of playmaker, brought her higher overall success rates – she was 15/20 from the 6m line. Previously, she had not been used in such game combinations – 1/1 in 2010. In the semi-final against Denmark, her leading personality kicked in and led the way to victory (10 goals from 13 attempts). Areas where she did not make notable progress in are her 9m shooting (4/25 in 2010 to 7/28 in 2011 to 10/30 at the Olympics) and break through attempts.

Back home, she won the National Championship with her club team, Arvor 29 Pays de Brest and was awarded best right back player of the league, best scorer with 125 goals and second best assistant with 32. The end of her season was not as successful, as France failed to medal in London. Lacrabère will be expected to lift Zvezda’s level and carry them to the Main Round of the Champions League.

Best veteran: Miranda Tatari

At 29, Tatari is among the most respected players of her generation, having dedicated her club career to her hometown, Koprivnica, and having managed at the same time to take her national team to new peaks. This generation marks the transition between Former Yugoslavia and modern day Croatia. The players have trained in a different system and have had the chance to travel around Europe in search of better jobs. Tatari chose to settle in Koprivnica.

It was a very busy year for the Croatian “combat general”. It started with a disputed ChL group, from which Podravka failed to qualify. However, the club did progress along the way, with close results and an inspiring last match in front of their home crowd – not enough to get them into the European Spring. Tatari was Podravka’s 2nd best scorer.

In Brazil, the team obtained its best result since 1997, placing 7th. Coach Vladimir Canjuga travelled to London with the hope of a medal, but Croatia couldn’t secure a semifinal berth in a close encounter.  In all of these championships, Tatari was the main factor of stability and boldness: best assist player with 28 in nine matches in Brazil and 17 in six matches in London. At the Olympics, she was her country’s second best scorer (24/38; 63%).

Honourable mention: Alexandra Do Nascimento

Best OG performance: Katarina Bulatović

The top scorer of the Games (53/93; 57%) was also a prolific assistant, having placed 5th in the ranking. She was Montenegro’s best achiever in every victory (except for the one against team GB) and the most efficient player in the final game (10 goals). This is Bulatović’s first confirmation in a final tournament and that is why she is expected to carry on in Serbia and lead her teammates to another success.

She had a 100% success rate from the 6m line (5/5)  and a 95% success rate from the 7m line (19/20). I would add that some of the penalties she scored were at crucial moments in the game (e.g. the last penalty against France or the 5/5 against Norway). She made amends for her 43% successful 9m shots throughout the tournament, when she shone in the final with a 57% success rate display. Bulatović did not spend as much time in defence as she did in Budućnost. As a result, her numbers are rather insignificant: only 3 two-minute suspensions, 2 steals and 4 blocked shots.

Best WCh performance: Andrea Penezić

The 3rd top scorer was also the most efficient back court player of the championship with 49 goals (only 2 penalties) and a 64% success rate. There was no doubt about her belonging on the All-Star team.  Her performance in defence was as impressive, with 15 blocked shots (2nd overall), 5 steals and 5 two-minute suspensions. She was on court 50min per match, which makes her Croatia’s more valuable player and the 2nd most utilized player in the tournament, after K.L. Haraldsen. In the key match against Romania, Penezić delivered a sharp performance with a 6/8.

Repost. The final of the 1990 WCh : USSR vs. Yugoslavia

This unique document was uploaded to YouTube by Stankekamera. I watched it out of curiosity, having only a vague idea of Morskova’s solid build (1.84m; 78kilos) and of Kitić’s preference for bare skin. This match is a reference for several reasons:

1. History

This is the last confrontation between the two blocks, before their dissolution in 1991. Their domination of the sport (“supernations’ handball) came to an end. USSR would compete at the 1992 Olympics under the name of The Unified Team and would win the bronze medal. Former Yugoslavia would continue to be represented by players from Serbia and Montenegro until 2006. In 2001, the inheritors of these two handball traditions, would medal again in the World Championship in Italy.

2. Handball Technique

The pattern of the game is significantly different from the one practiced today: painstakingly established attack (because no pre-passive play warning existed at the time), less breakthroughs, more 9m shots, focus on the centre position, great individual skills. We can actually spot some traces of these models in today’s former Yugoslavian and Soviet nations. Nonetheless, the defence has become, as a general improvement, mobile and offensive. Moreover, the pivots (Russia’s case) and the wingers (FYR countries case) are nowadays better integrated in the collective play. In contrast, I can’t think of many players today that are as good passers and shooters as the 1990 players. Was the ball controlled with both hands because the resin was worse?

3. Players’ Biography

The online information on the players is scarce, so this video is the only way people will learn that Dragana Pesic was the Anita Gorbicz of her time in terms of inventiveness and unpredictability and that there is a long tradition of making skilled Russian wingers and goalkeepers.

The players that we see on the field during this game and their positions are:

Svetlana Kitić (RB) was 30 at that time. She was the Primadonna of the game, in the way she moved, in the way she looked, with a permanent air of superiority.

  • Olympic Games: silver in Moscow 1980 and gold in Los Angeles 1984;

  • European Champions Cup with Radnički Belgrade in 1984;

  • Yugoslav Sportswoman of the Year in 1984;

  • IHF World Player of the Year 1988;

  • IHF Best Female Player in History.

Maja Bulatović (LB) was 22 and one of the few Budućnost players in the team. The Montenegrin would later become the icon of the small state, but she would never get to play under their colours.

Svetlana Antić (LP) was, as she recalls in this interview, an atypical pivot, tall and stout. Hardly could one find someone bigger than the Russian pivots nowadays. On the contrary, both pivots we see on the court Tjan and Prjachina were of medium size.

  • Gold medal at the 1984 Olympics;

  • All-Star Team LP at the 1990 WCh;

  • European Champions Cup with Hypo Vienna in 1992;

  • Plays for Austria at the 2000 Olympics;

  • Stops her career in the French club of Besançon at 38, after winning the Cup Winners Cup.

Dragica Đurić (GK) is no other than the current goalkeeper coach of the Serbian Women’s Team. She talked about the Los Angeles and the Seoul OG to balkan-handball: “The most significant medal is definitely the gold from Los Angeles. Because of one bad half we stayed out of the fight for the gold in Seoul, four years later. My generation was not very lucky, because we were forbidden to go to Barcelona in 1992, and that year, in all tournaments, we were by far the best team. We played great. The realistic potential of that generation was three Olympic gold medals …”

Other players: Dragana Pešić (CB) Olga Sekulić (only during the opening minutes) Stanica Gole (LW), Stana Vuković (RW), Katica Lješković (GK), Tanja Polajner (defender, LP).

Natalia Morskova (LB) was 24 and already a respected player. She would become a monument of the ‘90s.

  • Two Olympic bronze medals in 1988 and 1992;

  • In 1991, she leaves Russia (and natal Rostov) for Valencia;

  • Top-scorer of the Champions League in ‘94, ‘97 and ‘98;

  • 1998 Champions League winner with Mar Valencia;

  • She eventually obtained the Spanish citizenship and played 49 games under their flag.

Elena Nemaskalo (LW)

  • Olympic bronze medal in 1988;

  • All-Star Team LW at the 1990 tournament;

  • She played for Spartak Kiev and won 7 European Champions Cups

  • From 1995 on, she  played for Croatia. Her daughter, also a winger, is currently a member of the Croatian NT.

Svetlana Bogdanova (GK) 26 at the time. Being asked how come she had such a long career (like her colleagues, Vydrina, Morskova, Nemaskalo), she says: “My generation of Russian players is a very strong one, we recover fast and we are used to a lot of training.”

  • She won bronze with The Unified Team at the 1992 Olympics;

  • 1998 Champions League winner with Valencia;

  • She ended her career in Itxako;

  • She was voted by the Russian Federation the best Russian GK of the 20th century.

Other players: Svetlana Vydrina (RB), Galina Onoprienko (CB), Marina Bazanova (RW), Tijan and Svetlana Prjachina (LP).

00:03:07 – First shot of the game taken by the Russian RB, Vydrina, and the first save for Đurić.

00:03:30 – Morskova 1:0

00:03:45 – An out-of-this-world assist from Kitić to the LP, Antić. Early on, we get the feeling this woman really likes to toy with the defence in front of her. 1:1

00:04:20 – The Russian playmaker, Onoprienko, succeeds in a rather girlish breakthrough. 2:1

00:04:50 – Sekulić gets injured and so Maja Bulatović comes onto the field. Oh, but was it a RC foul?

00:06:40 – Kitić with a RC foul on Nemaskalo who receives the penalty. 3:1

00:08:20 – 4:1

00:09:45 – Bulatović’s first goal. 4:2

00:10:30 – Beautiful action with Bazanova and Morskova in LW position. 5:2

00:10:50 – Time for for some left-handed-Pešić-passing to the pivot. She feigns by spreading her right arm, while keeping her left one close to the body. 5:3

00:11:40 – Kitić scoring very much like Bojana Radulovics. 5:4

00:12:50 – 6:4

00:13:45 – 2min Kitić, And Vydrina seems one solid penalty shooter. I wonder if she missed any during the game… let’s see! This is already the 3rd Russian penalty – they speculate very well the gaps in the Yugoslavian wall. 7:4

00:15:30 – Morskova 8:4

00:16:25 – A lob from RB position – Kitić. 8:5

00:17:12 – The quality of the Russian passing is close to perfection – they are not only creating space, but they are also creating a beautiful display of passes around the back and releases in the air. 9:5

00:18:25 – 9:6

00:20:30 – An action between the two wingers. 10:6

00:21:45 – Another girlish feint that works well. Pešić scores with almost no push in her feet – well pulled off. We have to say that both goalkeepers were underperforming at that point. 10:7

00:24:10 – 11:7 Bazanova

00:24:40 – The first Yugoslavian goal coming from the wing (Gole). 11:8

00:26:10 – Kitić’s shot in place goes in and the Yugoslavians think they are back in the game. 11:9

00:26:45 – A counterattack phase perfected with an over-the-shoulder pass from Pešić to Antić. The shot is missed, as Svetlana Bogdanova starts to warm up in the goal.

00:30:00 – A beautiful save by Bogdanova who afterwards launches the fastbreak. 12:9 Prjachina

00:31:30 – 13:9 Vydrina

00:33:50 – Kitić was a bundle of nerves and made some rush decisions in defence. Another suspension. 14:9 Vydrina

2nd half

Katica Lješković substitutes Đurić.

00:37:20 – 14:10 Bulatović

00:38:15 – 15:10 Morskova

00:38:50 – 15:11 Pešić can shoot too. But I’d rather take her no-look passes and the fitted detached hair.

00:40:10 – 16:11 Vydrina

00:43:10 – 17:11 Morskova

00:43:40 – 17:12 Bulatović

00:45:10 – 17:13 Kitić

00:45:45 – 17:14 Bulatović signs the 2nd Yugoslavian comeback with an audacious breakthrough.

00:46:20 – 18:14 Vydrina, old school. When you compare this to Kitić’s and Pešić’s impossibles angles, you get the picture of two opposite handball worlds: the Yugoslavians lacking in the physique department, the Russians not much into plain embellishments.

00:47:15 – 19:14Vydrina

00:47:40 – 19:15 Bulatović

00:49:00 – Watch Pešić agreeing with Antić on their next move and prepare for something fine! 19:16 Antic’s backwards shot ending a cascade of beautiful passes. – Comeback n° 3 within 3 goals and I am thinking, come on Russians! Aren’t you tired, just a little bit?

00:50:00 – With the enchanted goblins working the wing? No way. Vydrina scores her 15874008th penalty. 20:16

00:50:40 – 20:17 Bulatović

00:51:20 – Kitić’s act is one of the highlight of the game. Indomitable Kitić! Pešić lobs the goalie from the 7m. 20:18 “Tri gola” situation overcome. We have a match!

00:53:00 – 20:19 Gole. 14min to the end

00:53:30 – Vydrina assists the pivot and hell freezes over. 21:19 Prjachina

00:56:25 – The usual state of tension creeps in, when teams do foolish things like wrong substitutions. 12min left

00:57:20 – What a move, what an angle, what a reaction! 22:19 Nemaskalo

00:58:00 – Pešić with a classic. 22:20 On the replay, you can count 4 steps, but in live action there is no way you could tell that small hop she takes when she receives the ball.

00:58:30 – Bazanova 23:20

01:00:55 – Kitić 23:21 At 30 she runs the fastbreak like a maniac.

01:01:55 – 24:21 Morskova. 7min to go

01:04:19 – GK n° 2 with two crucial consecutive saves against Kitić. 5min

01:05:20 – Vydrina misses her first penalty of the day. 4min

01:06:09 – Pešić shows that sometimes you better keep it simple. 3min

01:07:42 – See what happens when Morskova shoots the GK in the face!

01:10:25 – 24:22 Pešić

01:12:35 – 24:22 FT