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.