Ten Successful Romanians

1. Irina Nagy Klimovschi (1936-2001)


Medals

Gold at the WCh 1956, 1960 (11 players) and 1962 (7 players)

1960/1961 European Champions’ Cup winner with Stiinta Bucuresti

1963/1964 European Champions’ Cup winner with Rapid Bucuresti

Awards

All-Star goalkeeper WCh 1956 and 1960

Club teams

Progresul Targu Mures, Stiinta Bucuresti, Rapid Bucuresti

National team

136 caps (2 goals)

WCh 1956, 1960, 1962, 1965


2. Mariana Tirca (1962-)


Medals

1995/96 ChL winner with Podravka Koprivnica

Awards

All-Star playmaker WCh 1995

Club teams

Rulmentul Brasov, CS Stiinta Bucuresti, Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Podravka Koprivnica, GAS Anagennisi Artas

National team

All-time top-scorer 335 caps (2043 goals)

WCh 1986, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1997

ECh 1996

Active

NO

* Interview with Tirca


3. Valentina Cosma (1963-)


Medals

1995/96 ChL winner with Podravka Koprivnica

Awards

Club teams

Terom Iasi, Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Podravka Koprivnica, ESC Yutz Handbal

National team

All-time third top-scorer 322 caps (980 goals)

WCh 1986, 1987, 1989, 1993, 1995, 1999

ECh 1996

OG 2000

Active

NO


4. Luminita Dinu (1971-)


Medals

Silver at the WCh 2005

2000/2001 and 2002/2003 ChL winner with Krim Ljubliana

2001/2001 ChL winner with Kometal Skopje

2006/2007 CWC winner with Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea

Awards

All-Star goalkeeper ECh 2000 and WCh 2005

Club teams

Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Krim Ljubljana, Kometal Skopje

National team

201 caps (9 goals)

WCh 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007

ECh 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2008

OG 2000, 2008

Active

NO


5. Steluta Luca (1975-)


Medals

Gold at the Junior WCh 1995

Silver at the WCh 2005

2006/2007 CWC winner with Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea

Awards

Club teams

Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Dossobuono Verona, Randers, FCK Copenhagen

National team

All-time second top-scorer 223 caps (1013 goals)

WCh 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007

ECh 1998, 2000, 2002

OG 2000

Active

NO


6. Simona Gogarla (1975-)


Medals

Gold at the Junior WCh 1995

Silver at the WCh 2005

Awards

Top-scorer of the ECh 2000

Club teams

CSS Focsani, Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Krim Ljubljana, SD Itxako, Gyori ETO, Rulmentul Brasov, Rapid Bucuresti

National team

93 caps (455 goals)

WCh 1997, 2001, 2003, 2005

ECh 1998, 2000

Active

Coach of HCM Ramnicu Valcea

* Profile on Simona Gogarla


7. Carmen Amariei (1978-)


Medals

Gold at the Junior WCh 1995

Bronze at the Junior WCh 1997

2002/2003 EHF Cup Winner with ESBF Besançon

2004/2005 and 2006/2007 ChL winner with Slagelse

Awards

Top-scorer of the WCh 1999

Club teams

Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, ESBF Besançon, Randers, Slagelse, U Jolidon Cluj, Rulmentul Brasov, FCK Copenhagen, Viborg, Terom-Z Iasi, SCM Craiova

National team

All-time 4th top-scorer 182 caps (855 goals)

WCh 1999, 2001, 2003, 2009, 2011

ECh 1998, 2002, 2004, 2008

OG 2000, 2008

Active

NO


8. Cristina Varzaru (1979-)


Medals

Gold at the Junior ECh 1998

Gold at the Junior WCh 1999

Silver at the WCh 2005

Bronze at the ECh 2010

2005/2006, 2008/2009 and 2009/2010 ChL winner with Viborg

Awards

All-Star right winger Junior ECh 1998

All-Star right winger Junior WCh 1999

Top-scorer of the 2009/2010 ChL

Club teams

CSS Corabia, Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Rapid Bucuresti, Viborg, CSM Bucuresti

National team

178 caps (493 goals)

WCh 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2009, 2011

ECh 2000, 2002, 2004, 2010

OG 2000

Active

Plays for CSM Bucuresti (ROU)

* Profile on Cristina Varzaru


9. Valentina Ardean Elisei (1982-)


Medals

Gold at the Junior ECh 2000

Silver the  WCh 2005

Bronze at the ECh 2010

2006/2007 CWC winner with Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea

Awards

All-star left winger at the WCh 2005 and ECh 2008

Club teams

Universiteatea Remin Deva, Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, ZRK Knjaz Milos, HCM Baia Mare

National team

All-time fifth top-scorer 181 caps (735 goals)

WCh 2005, 2011, 2013

ECh 2004, 2008, 2010

OG 2008

Active

Plays for HCM Baia Mare (ROU)


10. Cristina Neagu (1988-)


Medals

Silver at the Youth ECh 2005

Bronze at the Youth WCh 2006

Bronze at the Junior ECh 2007

Bronze at the ECh 2010

2014/2015 ChL winner with Buducnost

Awards

MVP of the Youth ECh 2005

MVP and all-star left back Youth WCh 2006

All-Star left back Junior ECh 2007

IHF Rookie of the year 2009

Top-scorer and all-star left back ECh 2010

IHF World player of the year 2010

All-star left back ECh 2014

Nominated for the IHF World player of the year 2014

Top-scorer of the 2014/2015 ChL

Club teams

Rulmentul Brasov, Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Buducnost Podgorica

National team

111 caps (455 goals)*

WCh 2007, 2009, 2013

ECh 2008, 2010, 2012

OG 2008

Active

Plays for Buducnost Podgorica (MNE)


Some thoughts…

  • Longest NT career: Cosma 1986-1999.
  • One player has won an international cup with every team: Dinu.
  • Except for Nagy, all players have played for Oltchim Valcea.
  • Two players have never won a European Cup: Gogarla and Neagu**.
  • Two players have never won an NT medal: Tirca and Cosma.

The five all-time national team top-scorers are on the list: Tirca, Luca, Cosma, Amariei and Elisei.

In listing the ten most successful Romanians in the history of women’s handball, I have taken into account international medals, awards and recognitions, as well as the players’ contribution to the national team in  goals scored and matches played. But let us not forget the difference between our times and the previous era of handball: the IHF award only exists since 1988, the European Championship was first played in 1994, youth competitions were implemented only a couple of decades ago. In short, contrary to the heydays of Romanian handball in the 1960s, today, our players get plenty of chances to stand out.

* Selections and goals of all players until 2012 according to FRH. ** Eventually, Neagu won the Champions League with Buducnost in 2015.

Repost. The pursuit of steadiness

An idealistic overview of leadership issues at the end of the Olympic cycle*

The coincidence of several events has influenced the course of women’s European club handball. The economic crisis, the leading cause of some drastic movements on the transfer market, has been long discussed. Other events are related to the natural curve of one’s handball life: the end of another Olympic cycle and subsequent retirement. This article will tackle the implications of a generation’s end of contract and the typology of leadership in the top European clubs of our times.

The traditional contenders Randers, Viborg and Budućnost, will be deprived of the mental and physical prowess of some of their leaders: Katrine Fruelund, Grit Jurack and Bojana Popović. Fruelund was the community person who ended her career by winning the national championship with her childhood club. Jurack was the leader by example, with courage and initiative. Popović – the mother figure who protects and cares for. All of the sudden, their former teams are expected to grow, with patience and skill, new main characters. While Viborg can temporarily count on Rikke Skov, Randers will still be guarded by Chana Masson, whereas Budućnost can only hope a true leader will rise in three to four years, just in time for a new cycle.

But are patience, cyclic planning and time investment still of relevance to our times and markets? As it turns out, teams are forced to give up on their best players, the ones expected to develop passion on top of passion – commitment to a team, to an audience, to a town and to a nation on top of their love for handball. We are therefore witnessing the regrouping of handball’s top players on account of financial temptation and short term planning. For instance, Metz and Itxako have lost their cornerstones: goalkeepers Amandine Leynaud and Silvia Navarro (incidentally to the same team, Oltchim Rm. Valcea). Both of them have been a true inspiration for their former communities. Retrospectively, the dismantling of Viborg in summer 2010, when the Lunde sisters and Popović left the club just like they had arrived, all at once, was a key moment in the transformation of values.

During the past few years, young players with immense potential have given hope to those who still believed in building teams for the future. Thus, Oltchim tried to build around Cristina Neagu, while Krim Ljubljana let go of their illustrious past and put Andrea Lekić in charge of their game plan. The future could not have looked brighter until Neagu went to surgery and Lekić went to Hungary. Health and seek of personal achievement have interfered with the plans of their respective clubs. Consequently, many foreign players were brought to compensate for the abandoned dream: the making of a team true in spirit and in character to the nation and the town that support it.

A symbol of hope in the current state of events is Anita Görbicz, the exception, probably the only star player with long term affective bonds. She may be the only moral reason why Györ should be regarded as the top seeded team in the Champions League. The other teams will spend time searching for a common language, something already within Györ’s reach.

As we look through the history books, we discover the names of Indira Kastratović, Marijana Bulatović, Snezana Petika and Heidi Astrup, players who have been committed to a single team. Does today’s handball world still allow us to have those types of players in top clubs after Görbicz, Skov, Tatari and Bodnieva? Or should we turn our heads towards not so glowing lands in order to find respected leaders? I wonder if we will still have role models or if this is the end of their kind, if it is possible to remain authentic while satisfying someone else’s thirst for true glory. Is there a time for business and another time for pleasure?

*This text was written several weeks ago and does not take into account the financial situation of CS Oltchim Rm. Valcea.

Repost. Best of 2011/2012: The MVP

The aim of the series was to sum up the highlights of the previous season, with emphasis on the World Championship and the Olympic Games. In choosing the Most Valuable Player of the season, I have also considered club level.

Truth be told, this is a tribute to a player’s career and final year in the elite. Never before had she scored over a hundred goals in one Champions League season. Never before had she reached the ChL final with her home club. Finally, and most importantly, never before had she attained such success at a final tournament of nations. Indeed, I believe that the apex of Bojana Popović’s career must be rewarded: to retire in full glory with no reserves is evidence of her work ethic and visionary approach.

A promise kept

Never have I had this feeling of complete celebration when I won the Champions League in Denmark. I imagined what it would be like to win the trophy in Podgorica, celebrating the title for months! Four times in a row I have played a ChL semi-final with the Blues. In Denmark I won the trophy five times. It was logical to come back, to try to achieve what I once started. (…) The truth is that I dream of the Olympics and that’s the last thing I think of playing in my career.” 4th July 2010, Arena, N°1252

Two years ago, she set two far-fetched objectives for herself: to play the final of the ChL in Podgorica and to take part in the Olympic Games. All her work and efforts focused on achieving these audacious goals. Two years were all she needed to take Budućnost and specifically the Montenegrin NT from third world to world-class.

My objection to the way she implemented her plan is that she did not make concessions when it came to her position in attack. Whatever her efficiency as a shooter in the left back position was, she never withdrew. Meanwhile, the younger Jovanović and Knežević had to play in the centre back, getting fewer direct achievements and more physical work. I have always wondered why Popović did not settle for the centre back position more often in order to give the others, who would have been at least as efficient as she was at scoring, a chance to play in their preferred position.

The mistress of the money-time

“I think luck is really by my side, knowledge is probably not, but somehow I always take trophies and I am thankful for this fortune.” Popović for the EHF website after the ChL final

She only defended one half per match or less in position one. The only way to overlook this drawback is to measure her broader contribution to the team’s performance in terms of leadership and time management, expertise that the best defenders in the world do not possess.

Popović is renowned for her decision making under pressure, generally in the final ten minutes of the game. She is one of the rare kinds who does not acknowledge defeat until the final whistle. She calculates the necessary rate of success and she informs herself constantly on the time left, without scramble. In 2012 “the Popović method” succeeded many times, like in the first leg of the ChL final, when she brought Budućnost from minus five within a two-goal difference in under three minutes.

Finally, at the OG, she orchestrated the final ten minutes of the quarter-final masterfully, breaking down the French defence machine. She was close to a reversal in the final against Norway, but the method only works every other time, as there is one thing to it even Popović can’t control: luck.

The swan song

My dream has come true as well as the rest of the girls. I can’t believe we are in the final! This is a big day for Montenegro. I feel empty now, I have used so much energy, it feels like I am dreaming.” Popović for the official London 2012 website after the OG semi-final

Popović had an average WCh in which she showed mental weakness and lack of fitness. A comparison between her statistics from the 2010 ECh and those from 2011, reveals a severe drop in 9m shooting efficiency, a lack of ideas in the crucial matches (vs. Norway and Spain) and very little personal initiative. This same sort of play could be observed in the group stages of the ChL, which seems to suggest that Popović could not reach the desired level by December. I argue that in terms of physical preparation, she gave up on the WCh in order to save power for the rest of the season.

Oh well, she dried her tears and went on to prove her distinctive nature one last time, at the OG. Her statistics had never looked better, as the OG schedule, with a one-day break between games, fitted her like a glove.

With 46/77 goals and a 60% success rate she finished second-best scorer of the tournament. Her 44 assists in 8 games represent almost twice the number reached by any other player. She scored 14/33 goals from the 9m line, but the interesting part is how she relied more on her individual efforts than at the 2011 WCh or the 2010 ECh: 14/20 goals through breakthroughs and 7/9 from the 6m line.

Quotes

« She is the most talented player I have ever met. She is capable of everything: she can shoot, break through, she is tall (1,85 m). There is genius in this girl. She sees everything but pretends she does not (…) What? She has never won the IHF Player of the Year Award? This is a scandal. She deserves it though. » Olivier Khrumbholz for Le Républicain Lorrain, February 2012

“Her special goal from seven meters in the semi-final against Cecilie Leganger was really amazing. I’ve watched it at least 1000 times! I was wondering all the time whether I would be able to score like this!” Ausra Fridrikas for the EHF website, May 2012

“They are going to have to name cities after her when she retires from handball. Popović has been a true legend of the sport and a wonderful ambassador.” IHF and EHF commentator Paul Bray during a live broadcast at the London Olympics

Repost. Best of 2011/2012: Going down on statistics lane and more (III), The All-Star Team

Goalkeeper: Silvia Navarro

She was the best goalkeeper in Brazil, with an amazing 46% success percentage (108/237). She was ranked fourth at the OG, with 37% (96/258), where she received considerably more playing time than any other top goalkeeper. Her precious contribution helped Spain win two bronze medals during the season. However, on neither occasion was she among the All-Star team players. Best matches: WCh – vs. Montenegro (65%, 28/43), vs. Denmark (54%, 19/35).

Left wing: Emiliya Turey

At the WCh, she was Russia’s top scorer and sixth in the general ranking (44/58; 76%) and was selected on the All-Star team. She was also Russia’s most used player. In London, she was the team’s second-highest scorer (L. Postnova led by one goal) with a 71% success rate. She contributed to her team’s performance by taking penalties and running fast breaks. Best matches: OG – vs. Brazil (7/9), WCh – vs. France (7/8).

Left back: Andrea Penezić

As I have explained in the previous episode, her WCh performance, for which she was awarded an All-Star team spot, was impressive. In London, she was Croatia’s best scorer and tenth in the general ranking. Only an unfortunate injury kept her and the team out of the semi-finals. Best matches: OG – vs. Russia (10/15, 2 assists, 2 blocked shots), vs. Montenegro (9/14, 3 assists).

Centre back: Macarena Aguilar

In Brazil, only she and Carmen Martin reached a >70% success rate. For a winger, this is the demanded quota, but for a centre back, it is a rare achievement. The efficiency is mostly linked to her playing style: most of the goals Aguilar scored came from break throughs (14/15) or from the six-metre line (9/16). She was one of the best assist players of the WCh with thirty and of the OG with thirty-three. She was on neither of the All-Star teams. Best matches: OG – vs. France (2/2, 6 assists), WCh – vs. Denmark (3/5, 5 assists).

Right back: Linn Jørum Sulland

Sulland was the second-best scorer of the WCh and the sixth of the OG. In Brazil, her performance (68%) was better on the whole than her Olympic display (50%). However, it is important to note that she reached her highest level in the final of the tournament, where Norway faced Montenegro. Anyhow, she was throughout the season, Norway’s top scorer and best offensive player. Best matches: OG – vs. Montenegro (10/14, 1 assist), WCh – vs. Montenegro (9/16).

Right wing: Alexandra Do Nascimento

The top scorer of the WCh (57/78, 73%) made her first All-Star team appearance in London. There, she placed fourth in the scorers’ table, although she had played only six games in the tournament. Like Turey or Penezić, she was the most used player of the team. Best matches: OG – vs. Montenegro (8/9), WCh – vs. Spain (7/10, 3 assists, 2 steals).

Line player: Heidi Løke

She was the only player selected on both All-Star teams of the season. Best matches: OG – vs. South Korea (8/9, one assist), WCh – vs. Spain (7/10).

All in all, any of these players could be a candidate for the IHF Player of the Year award, but when it comes to winning, I would exclude those who did not win medals and last year’s winner. I expect Sulland/Løke (a Norwegian is a must), Navarro (Spain will get credit for the good results), Penezić (an “outsider” is always a nice touch to the list), Bulatović (the popular choice) and Do Nascimento (Brazil is also quite esteemed after their exhibition on home soil) to compete. As far as I’m concerned, I have someone else in mind. Stay tuned for the final episode…

Repost. Best of 2011/2012 – Going down on statistics lane and more (II)

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.

Repost. Best of 2011/2012 – Going down on statistics lane and more (I)

Best newcomer: Louise Burgaard

During the WCh, I made this video for Burgaard. I was actually of the opinion she should have been on the All-Star team instead of her teammate Line Jorgensen. She made a dazzling debut on the NT and will certainly continue in that direction. I expect her to become a rock of the Danish team.

Her results at youth level are not the point of this presentation. It is her WCh debut that I will analyse in detail. She scored 24/36; 67%, in nine matches. For a newcomer, she received enough playing time to show her abilities: ~30min per match. She was almost flawless in one-on-one situations. On the 9m, she was excellent with 14/24; 58%, the most efficient Danish back court player. Under these circumstances, her 1.5  TO/TF per match were not very costly.  At the OQT and at the OG she was assigned to the right wing position and was not as dominant in the game. Even so, her scoring efficiency remained at a high level.

Honourable mention: Ryu Eun Hee

Most improved player: Alexandra Lacrabère

At 24, Lacrabère emerged in Brazil as a constant achiever of the French team. Not only did she score regularly (France’s second best scorer after nine games), but she was also the playmaker of the team towards the end of the tournament (credited for 24 assists).  An in-depth look at the aspects of her game shows she has improved her defence skills and gained a new role in her team.  At the WCh, she spent more time in defence and had more successful interventions, namely 5 steals (compared to one at the 2010 ECh). Her new position, that of playmaker, brought her higher overall success rates – she was 15/20 from the 6m line. Previously, she had not been used in such game combinations – 1/1 in 2010. In the semi-final against Denmark, her leading personality kicked in and led the way to victory (10 goals from 13 attempts). Areas where she did not make notable progress in are her 9m shooting (4/25 in 2010 to 7/28 in 2011 to 10/30 at the Olympics) and break through attempts.

Back home, she won the National Championship with her club team, Arvor 29 Pays de Brest and was awarded best right back player of the league, best scorer with 125 goals and second best assistant with 32. The end of her season was not as successful, as France failed to medal in London. Lacrabère will be expected to lift Zvezda’s level and carry them to the Main Round of the Champions League.

Best veteran: Miranda Tatari

At 29, Tatari is among the most respected players of her generation, having dedicated her club career to her hometown, Koprivnica, and having managed at the same time to take her national team to new peaks. This generation marks the transition between Former Yugoslavia and modern day Croatia. The players have trained in a different system and have had the chance to travel around Europe in search of better jobs. Tatari chose to settle in Koprivnica.

It was a very busy year for the Croatian “combat general”. It started with a disputed ChL group, from which Podravka failed to qualify. However, the club did progress along the way, with close results and an inspiring last match in front of their home crowd – not enough to get them into the European Spring. Tatari was Podravka’s 2nd best scorer.

In Brazil, the team obtained its best result since 1997, placing 7th. Coach Vladimir Canjuga travelled to London with the hope of a medal, but Croatia couldn’t secure a semifinal berth in a close encounter.  In all of these championships, Tatari was the main factor of stability and boldness: best assist player with 28 in nine matches in Brazil and 17 in six matches in London. At the Olympics, she was her country’s second best scorer (24/38; 63%).

Honourable mention: Alexandra Do Nascimento

Best OG performance: Katarina Bulatović

The top scorer of the Games (53/93; 57%) was also a prolific assistant, having placed 5th in the ranking. She was Montenegro’s best achiever in every victory (except for the one against team GB) and the most efficient player in the final game (10 goals). This is Bulatović’s first confirmation in a final tournament and that is why she is expected to carry on in Serbia and lead her teammates to another success.

She had a 100% success rate from the 6m line (5/5)  and a 95% success rate from the 7m line (19/20). I would add that some of the penalties she scored were at crucial moments in the game (e.g. the last penalty against France or the 5/5 against Norway). She made amends for her 43% successful 9m shots throughout the tournament, when she shone in the final with a 57% success rate display. Bulatović did not spend as much time in defence as she did in Budućnost. As a result, her numbers are rather insignificant: only 3 two-minute suspensions, 2 steals and 4 blocked shots.

Best WCh performance: Andrea Penezić

The 3rd top scorer was also the most efficient back court player of the championship with 49 goals (only 2 penalties) and a 64% success rate. There was no doubt about her belonging on the All-Star team.  Her performance in defence was as impressive, with 15 blocked shots (2nd overall), 5 steals and 5 two-minute suspensions. She was on court 50min per match, which makes her Croatia’s more valuable player and the 2nd most utilized player in the tournament, after K.L. Haraldsen. In the key match against Romania, Penezić delivered a sharp performance with a 6/8.

The Varzaru File

In sequel of the post on Alina Dobrin, I will make the insane attempt to sum up Cristina Varzaru.

Today

In May 2011, she gives an interview to Adevarul in which she confessess that she deeply admired Jane Kolding long before coming to Denmark. She then played against her on field, but did not have the courage to approach her.

She elaborates on the lessons she received from her former coaches. Her first coach, in Corabia, thought her defence; while in Valcea she developed her technique as a wing under Rosca’s guidance. She praises Macovei and Tarca for trusting in her and pushing her to the front stage.

She has particular respect for Dumitru Musi, the coach who took her to World and European Gold at Youth and Junior level. In 1999, in China, she was declared most complete player. I find it mind blowing that she made the all star team at 3 major competitions in a row, WCh 1997, ECh 1998 and WCh 1999.

She took part in 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2009 WCh and 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2010 ECh, not to forget the Sydney Olympics.

To Denmark

After moving to Denmark, in 2005, she received great reviews from the fans, as in the following posts from the handball123 forum. The reward for her work and courage came as Viborg won its first ChL trophy in 2006.

slagelsefan Oct 06, 2005 6:03 pm

I must say, forget Woo, Touray, Turey… Varzaru is playing absolutely fantastic, both in defence and in creative and effective attacking play. Very very nice.

Red and white Oct 06, 2005 7:17 pm

I totally agree! I had high hopes for Varzaru´s skills before she came to Viborg and she certainly haven´t disappointed me. I think I have seen her score 20-30 goals so far, but what is spectacular is that every single goal is different. (Help me out you Danes, how do you translate afslutnings repertoire?) Her technique is simply superb! Her defense is surprisingly good too. Very aggresseive with lots of steals, but she could use some more speed.

pics: http://www.sfh_rene.webbyen.dk

Silver in 2005

Her words after the semifinal against Hungary: “We were so stressed, because we wanted this victory badly. That is why there were so many mistakes and incoherent moves in our play. The final score and the victory are the most important things, tough! We fought from beginning to end, without conceding anything and we have reached the final.”

Commentator in 2007

An injury kept her out of the WCh in France. She then joined Radu Naum at the commentators’ desk. Here she is after the 1/4 against France: “I believe Romania has the power to win the gold medal. We know how to come back in the game. We no longer are the Romania that leaves the court with bowed head after endless extra times. The girls finish a match in the same way they start it, with enthusiasm. It would be a shame to miss on gold.”  Naum concludes in his dramatic fashion, as Cristina smiles at them being kicked out of the arena  “We end here our coverage from Paris Bercy which is now empty. We still hear the roar of the crowd, screaming HUTUPAN, HUTUPAN or ROMANIA, ROMANIA …”. Then the lights go down. What a great moment in Romanian television!!!

Back in Denmark

In 2009 and 2010 she makes the All Star Team of the Danish Championship.

In 2010 she becomes top scorer of ChL leaving us flashbacks of extraordinary executions, of dead angles she capitalized on, of imaginative passes and more toughness than we had expected. ” I have five or six goals left to score. I will try my best, but if we win the title and I don’t get to score at all, I will be the happiest person on earth.” she tells the Romanian press before the return match.

Bronze in 2010

Despite the injury, she was there, supporting her teammates, advising the wings how to shoot at Mortensen (seriously!) and delivering impeccably in interviews.

“It was hard to watch the girls from the stands. But in a way, it was also beautiful. I forgot about my injury, because they were more important, considering the effort we had spent together in training. I was sorry for not being on court but maybe this was the price I had o pay for the medal. (…) I would crave for Neagu in Viborg, because I know her and I know my club. I have been there for five years now and it feels great. In Viborg, I have learned how to smile and keep calm. I know now that some peace and quiet can substantially improve one’s achievements.” she stated for GSP.TV after she returned from Euros.

Noroc, Cristina!