Budapest Day 6: The Aftermath Review

Semi-finals Day

The opening ceremony inspired from the Harry Potter movies reminded us all that we were in the right place. Although a bit pompous, it was actually appropriate in this beautiful city, out of a medieval fairytale.

The first game day began with Gyor’s one-team-show. FCM was the second best team of the day and who knows what might have happened if they hadn’t met the title holder. Buducnost was in some respects well-prepared, defending the centre and the wings, running back in defence, getting the ball forward on counter and second phase. Neagu netted 6 goals from around 20 shots, and Popovic and Adzic were all hugs and kissed around her. After the 60 minutes buzzer, Adzic literally took her into his arms as if to say “You are my girl”.

Milena Knezevic came in at the end of the game and had a “talk” with Gyor’s supporters who were asking her to come take a photo. She avoided it, of course. I was thinking that maybe Buducnost had an advantage not having played Knezevic in the semi and that at least one player would be fresh the following day. Fresh, yes. But cool? Knezevic?

The atmosphere in the hall at Gyor’s game, was anything but torrid. The anti-cheering on the Buducnost-Vardar game made more of an impression on me.

Finals Day

The hall was half empty at the FCM – Vardar game. Rightly so, as it didn’t provide any excitement or suspense. Lekic’s technical prowess and Radicevic’s exhibitionism were reasons enough for me to be satisfied.

In theory, the final brought together the two best teams of the competition. It is very special to see these teams live and only now do I see the geometry that makes the team from Gyor superior to any other. Unlike ETO, Buducnost’s passes are mostly going sideways. Once their prime move is stopped, they can’t regain flow in the latter phase of their positional attack.

These are two different approaches of handball: a marriage of Spanish and Hungarian philosophies on one hand, the Balkan style on the other. ”Just keep going, just be patient, just wait for the best position and keep moving the ball”. It is only now that Ambros’ timeouts start to make sense to me. “Move the ball” means “keep a high pace and send the ball from left to right and back, be dangerous from all positions, confuse the opponent”. In the Balkan style of play, quick solutions are sought and patience is superfluous.

In was probably due to the early hour of the day or to the overconfidence, but there were no frenzy or shivers on the corridors of the Papp Laszlo Arena. Seen from the hall, the festivities of Gyor’s coronation were not the huge celebration I had expected either. I missed the folly and the melodrama of the past years. Gyor winning their first title was moving. Now, we have entered a whole other era, the era of domination, with fewer emotions, and more quality handball.

The joy at the end

At 00:40, the ETO girls run over a photographer.

At 01:50, a coach comforting Neagu

At 02:05, the teams shake hands

At 03:50, Bulatovic salutes the Varvari

Gyor is the champion

P.S. I haven’t watched the replay of the finals yet, but let me quote just one of O Brannagain’s bloopers from the semi-finals day: commenting on Petrovic taking a penalty “The courage… How old is she? She is (pause) 26. Well, she looks 16.” He had no idea who Radmila Petrovic was.

So that was all from Budapest. Thank you for reading!

Budapest Day 5: Two Small Timeouts, One Big Victory

The first semi-final opposing Gyor and Midtylland, was for both teams more of a training session. This is understandable in respect to Ambros Martin’s approach of the Final4. However, it does not flatter the Danes, who have shown their skills in attack but lacked aggressiveness in defence. They may have brought a great spirit to Budapest, but it was not the right one.

The game started with Gyor’s superb attacking display, Görbicz’s passes having no truble reaching Loke. Tervel and Amorim’s defence was a thing of perfection, as Thorsgaard barely touched the ball, let alone score. On the other side of the court, Groot was as reliable as ever, whereas the Jorgensens’ fluctuations were extremely costly. Defensively, Line J. was the most disappointing player, as she let in several goals on the outside. To conclude on this first match, let us emphasize Gyor’s ease at scoring in crucial moments of the game and FCM’s well organised first and second phase that might get them past Vardar in the final for the third place.

Final minute of the first semi-final

The first half of Buducnost versus Vardar reproduced the scenario of the first game. However, Vardar’s deficit was mostly the result of their chaotic, and sometimes absurdly childish, attack. The second half continued in the same manner until the final 15 minutes.

In handball, we are used to see the team that catches up during the money-time win the duel. Unless… there is an overtime. The two stars of the teams, Lekic and Neagu were caught completely out of touch, so small things decided the final ten minutes: the audacity of the three French players in Vardar, the spectators’ frentic support, Buducnost’s play in minority and … the coaches’ decisions: all in all, the Macedonians were riding high. One minute to the end, Indira Kastratovic called a timeout the second Nikolic scored the goal that would have put them in front. The goal was cancelled and Vardar missed the next attack. Buducnost’s turn! Dalby makes an attacking foul, but Dragan Adzic is there to turn the game around with a timeout. In the overtime, Neagu returns from hell to show what an extraordinary survivor she is. Two small timeouts, one big victory.

Popovic interview before the second game

Budapest Day 3: A Land Of Athletes

Since coming to Budapest, I have seen people canoeing, running and cycling. What makes this county so drawn to sports? Did you know that Hungary is one of the most successful countries at the summer olympic games?

Before drawing the picture of the Hungarian sports culture, let us have a guess at the most productive sports at the Summer Olympic Games (have your pick before reading forward):

a. water polo, swimming, handball

b. fencing, swimming, canoeing

c. fencing, athletics, gymnastics

Handball, an olympic discipline since 1976, has done well with two bronzes and one silver. Also, Hungary is the greatest olympic nation in men’s water polo. However, as there is only one medal to grab in team sports, it doesn’t add much to the total count.

In gymnastics, some legendary athletes of the recent decades are Henrietta Onodi (a gold on vault) and Szilveszter Csollany (a gold on rings). As for athletics, the Hungarians haven’t been as successful as their Romanian neighbours for instance, or as the Bulgarians, further south. The explanation is obvious, if you ask me: they spend more time in water than on hard land.

Joke aside, in Budapest alone, aquatics facilities have existed since the Middle Ages, thanks to those pushy Ottomans that built Turkish baths all over town (still functioning today). In the light of these facts, the correct answer to my multiple-choice question, is quite easy.

A hundred years

of fencing, swimming and canoeing. At the London Olympics, a Hungarian sabreur, Aron Szilagyi, won the gold medal after a twenty-year break in men’s competitions. The pre-WWII olympic history of fencing was dominated by the Hungarians. Then a steep revival occurred in the ’60 and ’70. In women’s epee, Timea Nagy was and still is considered among the few best in history, after having won two olympic titles in 2000 and 2004.

The country’s first medal in swimming came at the Games of the I Olympiad, in Athens 1896. Soon afterwards, an olympic pool opened in Budapest, bearing the name of the first Hungarian gold medalist: Alfred Hajos. The hero of the recent decades was Krisztina Egerszegi, the undisputed queen of backstroke, having won gold in 200m at three consecutive Olympics between 1988 and 1996. How was this possible? The woman was 14 at her first Games.

I believe that canoeing is the least appealing sport to watch among the hungarian top three. I insist on ‘to watch’, because I am convinced, after spending some time around canoeing schools here on the Danube, that it is an exciting, competitive and demanding discipline to practice. Hungary’s most impressive results at the Games were achieved in Sydney 2000: four gold medals.

A thousand years …

in search of national identity. Hungary’s need to express pride in the nation comes after a long and loaded history including periods of occupation (by the Turks), suzerainty (of the Habsburgs) or even destruction (WWII). In 1956, students lead a demonstration demanding democratic reforms, but as they were no match for the overwhelming Soviet forces, the city was seized by the Russians.

1956 was the year of the Melbourne Olympics, which took place in autumn, shortly after the siege of Budapest. The Men’s olympic final in water polo brought together, you guessed well, Hungary and The Soviet Union. (Here is the trailer of a 2006 film recalling this fantastic happening). After an intense match, Hungary won 4:0.

Today, sports are a hobby foremost, an idea that has been seeded mostly by the media. Moreover, in such a city, it’s hard to keep one’s snickers inside as the soft climate together with the tracks on the hills of Buda and along both riversides are made for running. Besides, you have exceptional events like the Women’s Champions League Final4 to remind you that Budapest is maybe the greatest capital of sports never to have hosted Summer Olympics.

Photos of rowers on Labour Day

Budapest Day 2 : The Winds Of Budapest

A strong wind blows on the Danube, spreading the news left and right. While waiting for a tram on the left bank, I spotted an EHF Final4 Anita Gorbicz poster. I hadn’t seen any such advertisements on billboards in Budapest until today.

In the sea of tourists set on wining and dining, the Women’s Final4 is the last thing you’d think about. I brought up the word “handball” today to a French. Nothing, no reaction. I was expecting a sign of approval on his kind face. Not today…

So, I headed north in search of the Roman remains of Budapest. Just in theory, because the modern Budapest has very little to do with the original settlement. Obuda (the old Buda) and further north Aquincum have been integrated in the contemporary urbanism. Archaeological diggings find place under public highways and next to residential blocks.

Some of the places on my map, like the villa of Hercules, were difficult to find. But as soon as I returned to more ordinary paths, the Aquincum museum offered me an enriching selection of objects excavated recently in the Budapest area. The most intriguing thing you will find in this museum is an organ, a genuine music instrument from the Antiquity, known to us through literary and epigraphic sources. Moreover, a Hungarian scholar has reproduced the instrument that we can listen to on the museum’s second floor.

Other highlights are a facsimile of a modest roman villa, based entirely on finds at Aquincum and a temporary exhibition showing the museum’s researchers’ favourite objects that normally sit in a box in the warehouse. A delicate small samian terracotta depicting the popular god Mithras, a children’s game and two millefiori brooches were among my favourites.

Getting back to Budapest’s city centre after having visited the Roman colonia was another story. If one wishes to take the boat back, then he should get a bus until the next station north and anticipate a 20 minutes walk to the Danube without the help of guiding boards. It is worth it, even if you do not have wind proof clothing.

In the evening, as I was still under the spell of the (almost) ten euros cake that I just had at Gerbeaud, another billboard came my way, on a deserted street. The northern and southern winds were telling me all day long: it’s soon Final 4 day!

Photos

Budapest Day 1 : The Colours Of Pest

History

In case you’re coming to Budapest and have no clue about Hungarian history, long story short  :

The leader of a tribe from the Ural mountains decides in the 9th century to hit the road in search of better food and housing. And so he settles in Pannonia (the geographical feature in which Hungary lies).

His immediate follower, Stephan, is the first crowned king of Hungary, around the year 1000. The Hungarian kings are great supporters of the church and, as all eastern europeans at the time, hate the Ottoman Empire.

Mathias Corvinus is the last king under whose reign Hungary was self-standing. Calamity strikes in 1526, at Mohacs, when the Turks defeat the Hungarians. In 1686 the Turks are chased away by the christians.

The Habsbourgs’ (that you might know as Sissi’s folks) internal and foreign policy becomes that of Hungary. However, artistically, Budapest benefits from new urbanism projects.

What’s more, the Habsburgs vote for the austro-hungarian duality in 1867, meaning that Franz Joseph is now emperor of Austria and Hungary, the latter being awarded the right to have its own internal policy.

Eclectic Pest

As this brief history leads to think, there are much more colours to Budapest than green, white and red. I spent my day trotting the streets of Pest and trying to put a label on it. Eclecticism is the word that best defines the East Bank of the Danube.

For instance, wherever I went, at the Parliament, at the Opera or at St. Stephan’s Basilica, I was told stories about marbles from Italy and France, gold and stones from Transylvania, blue-pinkish textiles from local manufacturers, all reunited in « mammouth » architectural works meant to convey the Hungarian identity through art.

Moreover, the artists of the 19th century, exploited a wide pallet of sources : the late Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Baroc, the Hungarian folklore, antique frescoes, and surprisingly, ottoman curves. If someone woke me up in the night in front of a window of the Parliament’s main stairs, I would think myself in Istambul.

Tip

If you choose to visit the Parliament, you’d better not stay in line for a ticket or you might have to queue up for 30 minutes, and end up doing your tour in Hebrew or Russian …  because those sessions are the only ones available . Be practical and buy your ticket online for 200 HUF additional charges. Prices  : Parliament 1750 HUF and Opera 2 900 HUF . Both visits are too short for the money, around 30 minutes …on fast forward.

Another proof of eclecticism is the co-existence of labyrinth-like streets and large open spaces. As I wandered the streets surrounded by tall white and beige buildings, I felt the need to breathe. And that’s exactly what happens  : Pest’s lungs are its many squares and parks. Budapest’s squares are huge crossroads. Have you ever got lost in a public square  ? You will in Budapest.

Tip

If you are looking for relaxing music, nice terraces and a sparkling crowd, have cake at Gerbeaud Cukraszda, on the Vörösmarty Square, just before the Vaci street. For a quiet moment in the middle of the city, have a bite on the Egyetem square, at the southern end of the Karolyi street in Pest. The open book-fountain there is surely something you have never seen before. The Magyar street park with its open air café is also a beautiful place to rest in. It comes with a visit at the National Museum.

Until next time ! Viszlát hamarosan!

LOH

Photos

Once A Handball Player, Always A Handball Player

On Friday, fans and players rewound the history of Oltchim Valcea in a highly entertaining charity match.

Among the star players of the past were Mariana Tirca (winner of the Champions League in 1996, with Podravka), Edith Torok Matei (winner of four Champions League trophies with  Hypo Niederösterreich), Maria Torok Duca (one of the greatest talents in the history of the Romanian handball and winner of two IHF Cups with Valcea), Carmen Amariei (winner of two Champions League trophies with Slagelse),  Simona Gogarla (a six-time European Cup finalist), Luminita Hutupan Dinu (a three-time winner of the Champions League), Geta Andrunache, Cristina Rouă, Hilda Popescu, Victorina Bora, Lăcrămioara Lazăr, Mia Rădoi, Mihaela Ilie Berbecaru, Steluţa Luca, Adriana Călin, Rodica Pestrea, Narcisa Lecuşanu, Liliana Ţopea, Felicia Tipi and Elena Morariu. The list published by the press is not complete, as more than 20 former players were “at work” on that magical night.

From the less known profiles, I particularly liked Lacramioara Lazar, a pivot, who still has the physique and the rhythm for the game. Today, she is a gym teacher in Baia Mare.

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