Dream and believe

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Dream and believe

May 30, 2024

By Sascha Staat


Budapest, Hungary

Season 2023/24 is almost done –  two to go. That’s two Final Four tournaments to go, actually, and two matches left for the best teams in women’s handball.

Super-power Györ will try to make it back on the top of Europe, facing tough competition from Danish champions Esbjerg in the first EHF Champions League semi-final at the MVM Dome, in Budapest.  In the other encounter, it’s French champion and cup winner Metz against German side Bietigheim, in what feels like a meeting between two teams in the mode of last-hooray.

So let’s take a look at the perennial favorites, Györ, who failed to win a domestic competition this season , losing to FTC in both the league championship and the Magyar Kupa. Ever since surrendering in the final match of the Hungarian cup to their arch rivals, the heat is on. Right after the tournament in Tatabanya coach UlrikKirkely was fired and replaced by Per Johansson. Thereafter they cruised through the Champions League quarterfinals, but are still far from being the dominating force they used to be.

Esbjerg, in the meantime, look as fresh as ever. Unlike in the past, when they still had to compete in the Danish league  a few days before the FINAL4 in the Hungarian capital to secure the domestic title, they were able to win the league last weekend. Compared to their last appearance in Budapest, it could be the main reason why Jesper Jensen’s team will finally come through on the biggest of all handball stages. But, they got other issues, as they lack the depth and physicality of Györ.

So who to watch out for in the first game of Saturday? Well, it’s obviously Stine Oftedal, one of the greatest players ever. She’s loved and admired by everyone, which is not only due to her skills on the court, but also because her attitude off the court. Always smiling, always friendly, always very honest and down to earth. Will we witness her final club game ever on June the 2nd?  Quiet likely.

The other semi-final will be as interesting as the first one. When the playoffs started, almost nobody put money on Bietigheim to make it even to the quarter-final. But, when they stunned Ikast, not only the public started to believe, but also the players. Even though they got a very thin bench, there’s no team who wouldn’t like to have somebody like Xenia Smits on their roster or Kelly Dulfer anchoring the center of defense. This squad has turned from dreamers to believers.

When it comes to Metz there’s this sense of urgency, the one you need to win the Champions League. It all started on January 17th, when Kristina Jørgensen missed a penalty shot against Brest in the French league. Since then, they won all matches, except for the one-goal loss at Ikast in early February.

Metz absolutely hammered Brest in the domestic cup and did so even with Louise Burgaard not at 100 percent and Camille Depuiset who missed a few weeks.

The key to extend their streak? Creating enough scoring opportunities against the combo of Dulfer and Smits, while keeping the latter one away from the area in offense.. And, don’t waste too many scoring opportunities against Gabriela Moreschi, the Brazilian goalkeeper. She was a major factor why the German champions made it to Budapest.

In the end it’s more about Metz to make it to the final, as on paper they are the favorites. But, be aware of the underdog.

In summary: If the stars don’t deliver, it will be about the role players. Any names that come to mind? There are a few. Whoever prepares the best and absorbs the pressure over the course of two short days will finish on top.

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