Budapest Day 4 : Teams Overview

DSCN0819Nemzeti Sport interviewed Lekic who believes Buducnost to have the upper hand in this fight. On the same page, Katarina Bulatovic, Radmila Miljanic and Trine Ostergaard speak their mind: “there are no favourites”. Instead of asking the question “Who will win?”, another one comes to mind “Who is there?”. The best players in the world and just a couple of absences. What do they have something in common ? A lot …

Cristina Neagu played the EHF Champions League in 2010, but it has been a long dry spell since then for the Romanian star. On the other hand, the Montenegrins in the team jumped from pre-qualification phase to the e-European podium in just two years. As for Buducnost’s international recruits, Woltering and Cvijic, they became world-renowned only since playing leading roles in the ChL.

Since Euros in Denmark, FCM started from scratch with national team players. Do you remember that beautiful Danish team which conceded the bronze to Romania at Euros 2010. Many players from that team are in Budapest, Dalby, Jörgensen, Troelsen, Thorsgaard. And Laerke Möller … one of the most unlucky player of the past years, is here, healthy and ready.

Andrea Lekic went through good times and bad times in Gyor and only now is she the leader of a team, a role that she has always wanted to assume fully. And what about the French girls in Vardar? In 2011, after Worlds in Brazil, I was observing the French payers’ wish to know the meaning of true glory, also known as “The Champions League”. They have done it, Pineau, Leynaud, Dembele are in Budapest.

Gyor has changed direction since 2010, when they were, to no one’s surprise, defeated by Oltchim Valcea in the ChL semifinals. Since then, they have started paving their way to the crown of Europe with the help of two brilliant players, Katrine Lunde and Heidi Loke, who have taken this lumpy team to another level.

The year 2010 was the beginning of a new generation, entering the elite with the same ambitions as their predecessors. They have come a long way to reach four years later, today, the peak of their careers. Today, the world’s best handball players have gathered in Budapest and that is what makes this event too remarkable to ever be reproduced.

Photos

Bojana Popović Penalties, 2006 Vs 2012

This is the penalty kick that in 2012, made a strong impression on handball fans and handball ignorants. It happened during the Champions League semifinal between Buducnost and Larvik.

Now, back in 2006, Macedonia’s legend, Indira Kastratovic played her retirement game. On that occasion, Popović scored against Luminita Hutupan-Dinu. The technique was brought to extremes, with some outrageous effect.

More footage from that game on the Kometal Sampion Facebook Page.

Four Finals

Before this week’s semifinals of the Women’s Champions League, let us look at the four possible finals. Which one is more likely to satisfy the spectators?

1. Buducnost – Györ  

This is the supreme final. The danger in such a match is the risk of collapse from either team. On Buducnost’s side, I fear that any difficulty with scoring from the 9m line could cause frustration and loss of concentration in defence. On Györ’s side, bad defence could allow fast goals from the pivots and the wings.

The interest in this match derives from the two contrasting ways of playing handball.

Buducnost holds nothing back, with its set-in-stone back court players, Popovic and Bulatovic. The only variation at the 9m line consists in the three playmakers they use. Knezevic has the sheer exuberance of her young age, the kind that makes her try exciting passes, but also unprepared shots – she gives a hint of “unexpected” to Buducnost. Radovic’s incisiveness has often been used against alternative defences. Finally, A. Bulatovic is mostly used against conventional 6:0 defences, in crossings culminating with her finding the gap and breaking through the defensive wall.

On the  other hand, Györ does not function with pre-established players on each position. Their two playmakers cover the whole back court and can surprise with passes to the line player or unprepared shots, as they are both fully capable of scoring without even looking at the goal. The left handed Gros is not used, whereas Amorim can remain on the left back position during an entire match, in which space is left for her to take her jump.

The similarity in their two games is the way they play the wingers, with fly moves, passes across the defence and of course, fast breaks (la crème de la crème).  The Hungarian fast break is often started by the goalkeeper. Alternately, it turns into 2nd phase attack, at which the players are better than the Montenegrins. The latter ones start the fast break from the 9m line, usually with Popovic or Bulatovic giving the long pass, hence the importance of having their captain on court, in defence.

2. Oltchim – Larvik 

In case Oltchim does not throw away the miracle from Valcea, Larvik would be the opponent to go after. In my opinion, these two teams are at the moment, the most suitable for a balanced confrontation.

The danger in this final would be Oltchim’s trying to score from the 9m center line and Leganger taking everything with the help of her great defensive wall. As for Larvik, they could have problems scoring against Dinu and Tolnai with their wingers, in positional attack. Also, the pivot department could separate these teams, as Oltchim can defend on Blanco better than Larvik can defend on Manea.

This final would bring the joy of watching fast handball, with crossings and finishing from 6m. I think what makes these teams entertaining is speed, whereas the two other candidates have aesthetics on their side. Now, in live action, we all prefer speed, while the TV spectator will definitely choose beautiful passes and curved ball trajectories.

Both teams play with their heart, although Oltchim’s heart  succumbs more often to excesses. Both teams use their wingers as main weapons, giving them various tasks in  every sector of the game. With Luminita Dinu back, we are guaranteed to see a lot of across the court passes to the wingers, which is THE weapon to make use of in such a duel.

3. Larvik – Györ 

The reason why these two last options are the less exciting ones is the Main Round. Could these matches end differently the second time around? Could the teams start from different grounds and target unconventional goals? No and no. Larvik is the victim of its own procreation, Heidi Løke. We should point out that Györ’s limited squad is the result of their own choice, whereas in Larvik’s case, the handicap of the short bench was out of their control. Buducnost and Oltchim have full squads of 19 players. This last point would be an important remark to make in case the fourth scenario comes true and Buducnost meets Oltchim in the final.

4. Oltchim – Buducnost 

On this last possibility, there are not many things to say. At the moment, Buducnost is Oltchim’s strongest impediment, reminiscent of the Viborg 2009 /2010. For Buducnost, Oltchim’s goal is an easy target, defended by goalkeepers that cannot catch the balls coming from the Montenegrin back court players. A second revelation in Valcea, necessary for levelling the battle, is unlikely.

The Hottest Country In Europe

… is France. Many things have been accomplished by the French handball players this year. Before the current transfer frenzy, France had qualified a club team in the top 8 of Europe and presented an almost flawless national team in Brazil.

Last summer, Metz Handball made the headlines thanks to their Russian recruit, Ekaterina Andryushina. At that time, they were clearly taking an engagement towards the Champions League, that of starting off on equal ground with the rest of the European competitors. It was a safe bet, as the Russian link was a perfect match for Pineau and company. Youngsters Claudine Mendy and Marie Prudhomme surprised with their attacking skills, while, the defence was coordinated by Nina Kanto and sealed by Amandine Leynaud. A great adventure for them, a new market for European handball.

In Brazil, France showed character in both collective and individual play. Europe was gazing at the French wing players and dreaming of a left handed playmaker. A folly of will, technique and discipline transpired the performance of their back court players: Ayglon, Lacrabère, Pineau, Spincer, Signate, Mendy.

The story did not end in Brazil, as the audience focused on the sequel. The internal league is now aired online by the French Federation. In consequence, we were delighted to discover the close battle between Arvor29, Metz and Issy Paris.

Inevitably, the French players have received important financial offers during the winter break. So important that even the loyal Nina Kanto would consider an overseas contract. On one hand, Issy and Arvor will keep their players based on a baby-steps strategy whose goal is to win the Championship and  reach the group stage of the CL. On the other hand, Metz looks like a successful factory right now, whose products are cut out for the most exclusive handball societies.

The conclusion of this season will be written in May, at the Olympic Qualification Tournament in Lyon.