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.

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.

Simona Gogarla And The Tale Of Two Cities

May I interest you in some women’s handball? I promise a story full of drama, starting in the solemn ’90s and reaching a bitter and tearful end in 2007 , the year Paris Bercy closed its doors to Simona Gogarla. From chevaleresque Ljubljana, city of dragons, to imperial Saint Petersburg, city of tsars, this lady went through several handballistic lives. The climax of her story is set in Romania of 2000, a country in search of reference points.

In 1994, she transfers from Focsani to Chimistul Rm Valcea and becomes national champion for the first time in her career. In 1995, a young and talented generation projects itself into a certitude for the future by winning the WCh in Brazil. Simona is the main weapon in the final against Denmark, scoring the decisive goals in the dying minutes of the game. Overall, her playing time is not noteworthy, with 12 goals in 7 matches. However, a match is all it takes for a true talent to shine.

[Some of her teammates at the time were: Steluta Luca, Alina Dobrin, Narcisa Lecusanu, Cristina Mihai, Carmen Nitescu, Carmen Amariei and Ildiko Barbu.]

She takes part in the 1997 WCh and the 1998 ECh. She talks to Prosport about the period prior to the European Championship, in Romania: “For about 18 months, I was not called to the national team. The Slovenians insisted on me to play for them, but I did not accept their offer”. Consequently, in 2000, she is Romania’s sweetheart, as she becomes top scorer of the championship. Journalists write that she and Luminita Hutupan are unanimously acclaimed. The crowd bursts into a GO-GAR-LA shout after every single vital goal.

The 22 y old Simona had landed in Ljubljana in 1997 and was now, three years afterwards, at a turning point.  “(… )I had some wonderful years in Slovenia. At that time, Olimpija Ljubljana was the better team, but Krim set the foundation of a solid team. In my first season, we won the first title is the history of the club. Since then, the team has never lost a national trophy. And before I left, I played the final of The Champions League, lost to Dunaferr, in 1999.” she recalls for Prosport.

In between 2001 and 2004, her career is marked by repeated failures at final tournaments: the 2001 and the 2003 WCh, as well as at the 2004 ECh in Hungary.  After such an amazing ECh in Romania, Simona is persuaded to return to her home country and play for Oltchim. Her most notable perfomance in Valcea is the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup, lost to Lada Togljatti, in 2002.

After spending one year in Spain, playing for Itxako, Simona trasfers to Gyor. Here, coordinated by no other than Anita Gorbicz, she reaches the final of both the EHF and the Cup Winner’s Cup, whitout winning any of the trophies. Will luck ever come her way?

In 2005, that was certainly no luck, but something grater: a perfect team, animated by international experience and a coach that prefers the exercise of defence to that of the attack. [Saint Petersburg suited us well, as did Herning last year. As if it were the physical temperature that makes us cold minded and lucid… Romanians would resort to absurd arguments when it comes to handball, so why not?]  Simona’s “bad luck” is now covered in silver, one noble metal.

A difficult time follows the winter of 2005, for she faces injury and fluctuation in form.  The year 2007 finds her in Brasov.  No sooner spring sets in, than the team reaches the final of The Cup Winner’s Cup. Clearly outclassed by Larvik, Simona, Cristina Neagu and a certain Woo Sun Hee, among others, succumb to pressure. In 2008 – 2009, the team is set to take on Europe with Carmen Amariei, Alexandrina Barbosa, Lidja Horvat, Gabriella Juhasz and Ionela Stanca completing the roster. Instead, the season brings financial problems and failure to reach the  group stage of The Chapions League.  In the wider context of Tadici’s recontruction plan, which will not be implemented because of his scandalous sacking, Simona will never return to the national team.

Having terminated her contract with Brasov because of Mariana Tarca’s taking over the team, Simona Gogarla plays her first match for Rapid Bucuresti in January 2010. Today, she is coaching Rapid Bucuresti.

The winter cold has settled over Saint Petersburg. If you asked me about the weather in Ljubljana, I would assume it became colder on Saturday night.

In retrospective:

Mihaela Ignat

Cristina Varzaru

Alina Dobrin


Excursus –> Talking of Ljubljana, here is Luminita Dinu after yesterday’s match, wearing the scarf of the Krimovci, supporters of the Slovenian team:

–> Moving on to the other match of the group, I was reading and enjoying all the publicity in the local French media. Eyes were on Bojana Popovic long before the clash had begun. Some amusing quotes from

” (…) We are often considered a team that behaves well, too nicely. I’m sick of it! Let’s rebel! I need us to convey pleasure, to respect our opponent without exageration. There’s no point in bowing before Popovic. Kristina Liscevic will not waste her time prostrating. I need all my players and Liscevic can become essential (…)” Gardillou, the coach of Metz, intense as usual

” We can sense we’ve passed into another world. Big teams have big demands. Don’t ask me why, but the Montenegrins have asked to be in rooms with numbers ending with 30… They are divas. ” Thierry Weizman, the manager of Metz

“Svetlana Ognjenovic:  I know Popovic well.  She’s a nice girl outside the court. I wouldn’t say we are friends, but I prefer her in the locker room than in the middle of the match. She shouts less.”

“Claudine Mendy who has found her way with 6/13: « Not enough to my taste! I still have quite some failures. But not everyone is Popovic. » Clearly, the number 17 has impressed yesterday. And the dark-haired did not annoy only with her goals. She spoke during time outs, cutting her coach – who’s also her boss on the national team – short and she kept smiling at the refs after every whistle. ” (author: Marjorie BEURTON)

(there’s a short, but pertinent and witty, portrait of Popovic here – see prt sc – and also an interview with Krumbholz, presenting The Lady)

Now, this is what I call media coverage! Note that the writing style is not ill intentioned, nor mocking, nor malicious for that matter. It is a way of spicing up the atmosphere before and after the event. It is marketing, good marketing. Come to think of it, the Arènes were truly burning on Saturday night, when Metz was closer to victory than anyone dared to hope!


Girls With Epées, Teams With Balls

It rarely happens to find an opinion article on handball in the Romanian press. I should say this happens in only one place: Radu Naum’s blog. In my search for a colorful opinion on Oltchim’s performance so far, I came across this post of his on the Romanian Women’s Epée Team.  Today, four girls represent all that was once good and successful in our country and is now lost, the last drop of water in a hitch-hiker’s bottle.

These girls have all won individual medals people do not care about as much as they do about their multiple European and World team titles. As in gymnastics, as in handball, the public appreciates a team when he sees one a tad more than the deeds of a bright individual. These four girls have told the press they are NOT friends, but that they are a team when it counts. It made me think about our coach begging his handball players to “Help each other in defense!” as if this was an act of graciousness and not an unconditional duty towards the team.

The four fencers just told us the secret when it comes to performing well – do not expect to build friendships, but teams – a secret that Martin Ambros knows better than any other coach in Champions League. An explanation like: “Adina Meirosu and Oana Manea work well together on court because they are close friends” has no place in Estella. There, Begona Fernandez will be as efficient assisted by Oana Soit, by Sandy Barbosa or by the bland Andrea Barno.  It is not a question of who likes who, but of who does what. Clear tasks set up by the coach in order to make a team work in its ensemble, from wing to pivot (do I have to remind you how Spain scored that last-second goal against Romania at the 2009 WCh? Guess not), will support a fantastic handball machine, with fewer individuals and more than one functioning mechanisms.

In contrast, Romania has focused on building two-way relations that once broken, become fatal. Just have a look at Ionela Stanca in Oltchim’s last season, after Cristina Neagu stopped playing! The loss of this axis alone was probably more important than Cristina’s goals, because it represented the perfusion that  artificially kept us alive throughout all those matches.

Take Begona Fernandez out of Itxako, AND Nerea Pena, AND Oana Soit, replace them with not such quality players, and the machine will work just as fine.

Oltchim Rm. Valcea News

Today, I watched the “new and improved” Oltchim for the first time. I had a feeling of sadness the moment I saw Meirosu leading the attack, Bradeanu on left back, Talida Tolnai saving a shot with her face as Marija Jovanovic was defending the center. History repeating. I guess the coach learned nothing from past disappointments and failed to evaluate his new players.

ORV will not reach the CL final this year. In the meantime, the management just stated that it would be unforgivable to miss it two years in a row after the financial effort invested.

Training Diary: Goalkeepers

Amandine Leynaud of Metz works on her balance in a preparation session with the national team. Speaking of Metz, I believe they have the chance of their lives to pass the group stage this year. Hypo will not be there in time and you never know how consistent Randers will be throughout group stage.  Amandine could well be the one working the magic for the team.   HandTV

Here is Silvia Navarro training without her counterpart, Montenegrin Milijana Milenkovic, who hasn’t arrived in Estella yet. Having a trainer who works exclusively with the goalkeepers is something normal for Itxako, as for Larvik, Gyor, Buducnost.

Oltchim’s goalkeepers, Sanela Knezovic and Talida Tolnai are working out under Frak Khun’s supervision. Frank  runs the physical preparation of the team. Glad to see he is making himself useful, while Voina starts trainings with the ball.