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

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The Back List

Right back – left back, the words that one hears on a daily basis in handball. Left can play on all positions, whilst right will remain unswerving. Thus they aren’t equally skillful. Here is an assessment of essential characteristics of back players.

What makes a back the most powerful weapon in a team is his jump, that provides him a clear  view on the goal. A classical “3 steps and jump” brings the back in central position with loads of possibilities to finalize.  This supposes cooperation between pivot, center back and backs in order to create the necessary space.

1.  From where she stands, girl can shoot, can’t she?

Now, it is very important for the back to posses positional shooting.

First in this case, I will look at jumps. Movements will be vertical, with 3 steps forward and a sharp jump. This time, the purpose of the jump is not the travel of the body towards the center, but climbing the wall in front. Players that have recourse to it are not as numerous as I would have thought.

On left back, Marija Jovanovic can do it, but she uses the wall in front to hide the direction of the ball and thus her jump is quite low. She simulates once and then shoots over the arm of the opponent. Cristina Neagu who is not afraid of body contact, takes some steps on the side, simulating the passing of the ball to the pivot, and jumps. Before Neagu, we saw Liudmila Postnova taking the time to decide on a shot and adjust her position by taking those steps. Bojana Popovic and Andrea Penezic do it without simulation. Unlike the others, Alexandrina Barbosa and Mariama Signate may start their steps from behind the 9 m line and take the jump around that limit.  Another characteristic of Neagu and Penezic is the “sudden jump of two feet”, always effective and surprising (see, 1:52).

Players that do not jump from left back court position: Olga Levina, Trine Troelsen, Linnea Torstenson, Rikke Skov, Tonje Larsen, Eduarda Amorim. Instead, they often shoot from the center.

Very few RB opt for that kind of execution, preferring instead to gain a clear lane by avoiding  the opponent. Breakthroughs and shots in place are much more common than jumps on right back.

One could name  Grit Jurack, Barbara Varlec, Camilla Dalby, Camille Ayglon and to a lesser extent Lidija Horvat and Melinda Geiger as takers, whereas Sulland, Bulatovic, Kochetova, Soit, Jorgensen will hardly consider it. See, queen Radulovics at 2.34.

2. Shot in place, there are ways 

Whereas a strong jump is not compulsory for backs, the majority, regardless the side, posses at least one “of the ground” shot.

One special mention is Patricia Vizitiu, a player with a wide repertoire of shots.

Added steps help to project speed into the ball (see, Neagu at 5:14), whereas a static execution demands contribution of wrist, arm and shoulder (see, 5:08). Tall players like Penezic, Popovic, Bulatovic, Jovanovic, Torsterson,  will need those extra steps. In contrast, it is mostly short players like Mork, Vizitiu and Troelsen  that don’t need a run up. Note that Scandinavians, Romanians, Germans are more skilled from this point of view than players from ex-Yugoslavian countries, the Spanish or the French.

Players that do not use it genuinely: Geiger, Varlec, Gros, Sulland. Right backs can have issues with it and the most relevant example is Katarina Bulatovic. Her ugly shot looks very rudimentary, as she needs to bend a lot in order to put all her power in the shot. It looks as if she is throwing a stone at someone.

3. Breakthrough  

This is an equally distributed characteristic among left and right backs.

4. SO…

Concluding, the starting hypothesis seems correct: left backs are usually more skilled than right backs in shooting. Of course this is what dictates putting them on right back position when needed. A left handed player has a specific role, without being the foundation piece of a team.

I would be curious to know if this is more of a preconception that trainers have projected on the game play of their teams more than something related to the motric characteristic of lefties . Norway has thought us an important lesson by using players like Mork, Kurtovic or Riegelhuth as polivalent RW-RB-CB players with outstanding results. What next? Maybe a left handed LB. Do I hear Anja Andersen saying yes, yes, yes?

In Recognition Of European Bronze

The national team was awarded 100 000 € by the sponsor of the Romanian Handball Federation.  Heads of federations from other sports took part in the ceremony. The girls looked nice and shiny. Have a look!

Cristina Varzaru spent her holiday in Romania and will go back to Viborg in a week to start on her recovery.

Cristina Neagu was a noticeable absence. The organizers said they had delayed the event before in order to get all of them in Romania, at the same time. Good point taking into consideration their great achievement, but the effort was pointless since Neagu could not be present. Party at the palace and the Queen isn’t there…

More pics: GSP and Prosport

Power In Their Hair

Handball players seem forever consecrated to their athletic equipment. In terms of personal choices, they have to stick to shoes and … hairstyle. This is the absolute girly post, so stop reading now if you have never experienced hair attachement problems before.

I remember having read an interview with Cristina Neagu’s first coach who conveyed that little girls playing handball wanted to copy Cristina’s hairstyle. A ponytail is not much of a style some would say, but it looks like children know better. This is something to be looked into ;).

Reading through the old goldies topics in the handball123 forum, I came across one user’s note on Bojana’s hair color change (was it in her Slagelse period?). General opinion was that the dark haired Bojana was  more mature than the formerly spoiled blonde girl.

Furthermore, there was much fuss in Romanian fora during the last ECh about the Danish team and its Barbie girls with fluttering straight hair. When I saw a picture of a plain Laerke at the 2009 WCh , I understood why her 2010 look caused such a stir.

My hair vocabulary is limited, so pictures will hopefully speak for themselves.

Braids department

Maura Visser is inch perfect. Funny enough, we get the opposite from Bulath in the background. pic: ehf-euro

Hair goes with the face, doesn’t it? It reminds me of the Ikast episode. pic: ehf-euro

Poland’s Kinga Byzdra looked as if she was going for a walk in the park the day of her WCh playoff against Denmark. She pulled it off just fine on court though. pic: balonfemme, screen cap.

Now, the situation would have been a lot messier were it not for Mara’s secured hair. pic: alesfevzer.com

The sloppy chignon

This is one of my favorites. I do it almost everyday at work because it’s time-effective and classy (paradox of our days, a sloppy hairdo is translated as classy). Handballers keep it real and take it for what it is, a quick way to get by.

Sandra Zacsik is the sweetheart of the game. She makes it look simple and clean. As in Neagu’s case, I suspect little girls in Hungary are copying her too. pic: handball.hu

You could say the chignon made this girl’s career. She transforms into another person when she is off court by displaying some fairy hair. Pic: hfoto.dk

Jovanka’s much debated teammate is one of a kind in the chignon department. Trust me when I say it takes some work to achieve that kind of volume. And when you see this, you should agree that there is some truth in this “power in the hair” story. pic: handballphotos.hu

Finally, I will include Oltchim’s new girl, Ekaterina Vetkova who takes the style to its apex and to … Valcea :D.  pic: ehf-euro

Ok, just one more and I’m done. Clearly a winner…

The pixie cut a.k.a. goalkeepers’ fav

Inna Suslina’s hair is a trademark. As her jump of joy… As her miraculous penalty saves… As everything about her. I choose an older picture for obvious Poltoratskaya related reasons. pic: getty

Buducnost fans will not be very happy with this, but the girl does have crazy hair worthy of being illustrated here. Serbia’s Dijana Stevin. pic: ehf-euro

In 2007, she was the little ugly duckling of the Romanian team nurtured by the big ugly Tadici. Now, she is another story mainly due to the hair change.  pic: Prosport

Lately, our dear Paula interpreted the pixie cut in a neat way and made us love her even more. pic: sport365.ro

The ponytail

Troelsen and Moeller come from the “Gorbicz school of show and hair”. They rock this style and will end by owning it. pic: ehf-euro

Varzi’s ponytail was by default until the ECh, when it attracted some attention. Danes were on guard unfortunatelly. pic: sporten.dk

Fact: great handballers have well defined hairstyles. Picture has spoken. Cristina is the master of hair clips, no one near her :D. pic: ehf-euro

Begona, an epiphany in women’s handball hair world. Who would mess with her? She is the female version of Sébastien Chabal.  pic:ehf-euro

Do you have someone else in mind?

The Ultimate Player, The Goalkeeper

This is a post I’ve been wanting to write for a while now.  This season, reputed teams have been in search and need for goalkeepers. Let’s have a look at what is out there today.

There is the fairy tale goalkeeper, the one you would not expect in “obscure” parts of Europe.

With Katrine Lunde in Gyor, the Hungarians are now part of “the good world” of women’s handball. More than ever, getting big names seems to be a piece of cake for them. I am sure Katrine’s arrival upped the ante. Krim had a similar try with Cecilie Leganger in older days.

Leganger and Haraldsen are the ones that push the team, being very vociferous and emotional. Cecilie‘s strong point is fast arm reaction, while her weak point would be transportation of the body from central to outer goal position for wing shots. Take a look at this

and tell me it has nothing to do with these two monsters:

impossible.

On the contrary, Katrine is in total control of her goal space, with solid footwork.

Her reaction is not as explosive, but she is a great athlete.

Next, I will spoil you with the mother figure goalkeeper.

Inna Suslina is trusted not only for her skills, but also for the way in which she takes the pressure off her teammates, reminding them that “victory” is the word. This relationship is well reflected in the following video:

Karin Mortensen would be more of a mean mommy, but with good reasons to be so.  To prove the point, here are some images from the 2010 ECh, where she was the only constant player of the Danish team.

They remind my of one of my favourite queens:

The natural goalkeeper is the one that makes everything seem effortless.

Paula Ungureanu and Katalin Palinger use their arms and legs loosely. There is no tension in their movements. Look how Paula does it:

Katalin flexes her legs and arms, achieving more volume in her movements.

To summarize, technique, spirit and talent would be the magical 3.  Now, what about the heirs of these icons?

The followers of Lunde and Leganger in the technique department would be Cecilia Grubbström and Anna Sedoykina.

We see Mortensen- and Suslina- like spirit  in Clara Woltering and Sandra Toft.

Palinger and Ungureanu will leave their legacy to  Jelena Grubisic and Amandine Leynaud, who have shown great talent.

Best Of 2010/2011

Best player: Heidi Loke

There isn’t any doubt about that. She was also the most redoubtable player, the name on  everyone’s lips.

Most improved player: Jovanka Radicevic

She has become one of the pillars of Buducnost, listed along with Bulatovic and Popovic as the best players of the team. On her NT, she is wing, pivot and leader. Cristina Neagu would have been a candidate provided she had kept her ECh level in ChL.

Best newcomer: Carmen Martin

A very efficient player that big teams will look for next seasons. Other names: Nora Mork, Maja Zrnec, Isabelle Gullden, Nerea Pena.

Best veteran: Tonje Larsen

Valentina Ardean Elisei was crucial for ORV and the NT. Bojana Popovic, of course.  Aurelia Bradeanu – fine in Gyor, but not so helpful to the NT.

Best ECh performance: Cristina Neagu

Best ChL performance: Cecilie Leganger

Best transfer: Bojana Popovic

Surprise player of the year: Laerke Moeller

Because she is as exciting to watch as Lekic or Gorbicz. And, Europe lacks this kind of playmakers. The entire Danish team is full of surprises, Dalby, Throsgaard, Kvisgaard are very nice handballers.

Surprise team of the year: Sweden

Itxako had made the impressive transfers, so it was expected for them to do well. But Sweden… no one saw them coming.

Best match by a NT: Montenegro against Denmark (ECh)

It was surreal. The Montenegrins were all very tired, really worn out, but still, they gave it everything. That was the essence of what a final tournament should look like. Another great game was Romania’s bronze final, the outcome let us in tears of joy and made us forget about the low quality of the attack.

Best match by a club team: Gyor against Larvik (ChL)

Team of the year: Norway NT

Because  there was no challenge out there for them. If they win the WCh , they will become one of the best squads of all times. Other teams: Denmark, Itxako, Buducnost, Larvik.

Best coach: Thorir Hergeirsson

Martin Ambros, Jan Pytlick accomplished really difficult tasks also.


Dream team of the season:

Ann Grete Norgaard (EHF cup final, best LW scorer and best Danish scorer at the ECh)

Emilia Turey is out there but didn’t get a chance at the ECh. Elisei is close too. 

Bojana Popovic (3rd scorer of ChL and ECh, ChL semifinal)

Neagu, the clear contender, but… long time, no see. Barbosa no NT, Torstenson EHF cup winner and MVP of the ECh. Penezic VIP of her NT and of Krim.

Andrea Lekic (7th scorer of ChL, best Serbian scorer at the ECh)

Laerke on second place and Gorbe will be the one taking it next year.

Camilla Dalby (best scorer of Randers in ChL and 2nd best Danish scorer at the ECh)

Kochetova is always no 1 in Dinamo, but a mess on the NT. Bulatovic, no NT. This is a poor category.

Jovanka Radicevic (best RW scorer in ChL and ECh)

She did fantastic in both competitions and no one can touch her at the moment.

Heidi Loke (best scorer ChL, best pivot at the ECh)

Stanca would easily be above her, were it not for the injury. Spiridon and Djokic, fantastic in ChL, but no NT.

Katrine Lunde Haraldsen (best GK at the ECh, ChL semifinal)

Nothing to add.

Radu Voina’s Obsession

TO1 “If Bojana is not on court, 6:0 defence!”

TO2 “One step forward on Bojana! The match is ending and we still haven’t understood this: one step forward on Bojana!”

TO3 “… there is little time left, we are down by 7 goals. In defence, focus on Bojana! Come on!”

TO4 “…they are 5, there is no pivot, so we defend 2 on 1! There’s Grit and Bojana who covers her! 2 on 1!”

TO5 “Girls, there is nothing left we can do. Ramo, on Bojana!  Cristina, you take the center! The rest of you play 4 to 4!”

TO6 “Very well Cristina! Careful when she’s on the opposite side!” (She = Bojana)

TO7 “So, continue with what you are doing! Keep Bojana from touching the ball!”