EHF European League FINAL4 (W) – Media Day
May 12, 2023
by J. Schuetz
Graz – The Women’s EHF European League has reached its final stage and a last round of handball will be played at Raiffeisen Sportpark, in Graz this weekend.
On Saturday, May 13th, the odds-on favorite team Ikast Handbold will face Thueringer HC in the first game of the day (15:30 hrs.) followed by BV Borussia 09 Dortmund versus Nykoping Falster Handbold at 18:00 hrs.
Which team will follow in the footsteps of SG Bietigheim, the 2022 EHF European League winners? The squad of Ikast head coach, Kasper Christensen, enters the competition as favorite according to most of the pundits, followed by three teams who appear to be more evenly matched.
Here is what coaches and players had to say before the action kicks into high gear at Raiffeisen Sportpark, in Graz.
Herbert Mueller (Thueringer HC)
About the journey to Graz:
“We arrived by train. This morning at 6:30 am we took the train from Erfurt, via Nuernberg and Linz to Graz. We just ate lunch and now the girls take some rest before we have a final practice session.
About the atmosphere in the team and expectations:
“We all are in a very happy, yet tense mood. And, we are extremely happy to have qualified for this event as we have a long, thorny road behind us.
“Beginning in the qualification round we only encountered strong teams like Chambray or Savehof – all teams that wanted to make it to the final round themselves. And, then we played a successful group phase – I am very proud of this team and how it developed along the way.
“Having reached the EHF European League FINAL4 already is a big deal for us and our fans. Now, we are looking forward what will happen over the course of the next two days.”
About Ikast Handbold, the first opponent of Thueringer HC:
“They are the clear favorite to win this FINAL4. From the very first day of this European League, I said that Ikast is the odds-on favorite and nothing has changed my mind, so far.
“We have no pressure whatsoever and we will approach this match with emotion, full of joy and a fighting spirit. Maybe it’ll be an advantage to meet the big favorite in the first game. We will look for our chance and give our best.”
About the other teams in the FINAL4:
“We are focused only on Ikast and nothing else. During the week we prepared intensively for this match. Of course, as a coach I pay attention to all teams including my own. Aside from Ikast, I see the three other teams more or less equally matched.
“For now, we concentrate on Ikast and Ikast only. After our game tomorrow, we will watch the first half of the other semifinal in the arena and the coaching staff will review the entire match later that evening one more time.
“Let’s see where we will be heading come Sunday. Hopefully, it will be a good direction.”
About Thueringer’s “Red Wall” making the trip to Raiffeisen Park:
“I am convinced that we have the best fans in the Handball Bundesliga Frauen and I expect around 300 supporters, on Saturday. And, that’s just amazing.
“I am also looking forward that our three Austrian players will enjoy somewhat of a home court advantage. After the OHB meeting (Austrian Handball Federation ed.) – which will take place here in Graz – the officials will watch the games. For all of us it will be special.”
Sonja Frey (Thueringer HC)
Comparing Ikast Handbold to Thueringer HC:
“Ikast is a fantastic team and the obvious favorite. They compete for the Danish championship and want to play in the Champions League next season, but on Saturday we will try everything to beat them.
“We have the potential to be a very “unpleasant” opponent and I am looking forward to the match.”
About Ikast’s key players:
“The whole team is very strong, especially their starting lineup. They all know how to play good handball and their defense is very physical and robust.
“In defense, we have to pay attention to their line players (Iversen and Johansen ed.). It’s tough to single out individual players – we have to fight against the whole team.”
Marie-Helene Sajka (Nykobing Falster Handbold)
About the EHF European League FINAL4:
“It’s my first time playing in this format and I am very much looking forward to it.
About her experience in Denmark:
“It was great experience. Everything was so different and interesting for me in Denmark. The culture is so different – I really learned a lot.
About Ikast being the favorite:
“Ikast play a great season in the Danish league, but I think in a FINAL4 anything can happen. It’s only one game and you never know what the outcome will be.”
About the semifinal match against BVB Dortmund:
“We have watched a lot of video. They had just such an amazing come-back against Nantes, recovering from a ten-goal deficit. But, we are ready for them and it will be an exciting game, on Saturday.”
About the fan support:
“We have some amazing fans – they will follow us everywhere, in Denmark and Europe. There won’t be as many in Graz, of course, but they are fantastic fans nevertheless.
“It’s great that other supporters will be in the arena as well. It’s so much better when an arena is full even when most of them won’t be cheering for us. It’s all about the atmosphere.”
About Dortmund’s key players:
“We have to pay attention to Alina Grijseels and Yara ten Holte, in particular.”
Kristina Kristiansen (Nykobing Falster Handbold)
About the prospect of an all Danish final:
“First we play the match against Dortmund, on Saturday and then we’ll worry about the next opponent. Our chances are fifty-fifty.
About the semifinal match against BVB Dortmund:
“We have to take care of Alina Grijseels as she is the one who does the most in Dortmund’s team; she is the one who gets the line players involved.
“Then there is Yara ten Holte in goal, we should not forget about her either.”
Henk Groener (head coach BVB Dortmund)
About the role of the two Danish Teams in the FINAL4:
“So far, Ikast have been the team that dominated most opponents and very often won by a significant margin. They play a strong season in Denmark as well as in Europe. In case we meet them it will be most likely in the final.
“Nykoping is a squad we will compete with eye-to-eye. They rely on a strong team effort as do we. In any event, on Saturday, we will face a tense match and we’ll see who will make it to the final, in the end.
“We are on a successful path in the German league and the same holds true for Alina (Grijseels ed.). This will give us an extra push here as well.
“As we have done before in all our games on the European level, we will give everything.”
What to expect in the semifinals:
“The only thing that matters is how we will compete on Saturday. Everything else is not important. All players will be excited and nervous to a certain degree – I am sure. Yet, everybody will get a good night sleep and will be well prepared.”
Harma van Kreij (BVB Dortmund)
About the importance of having strong fan support:
“We will enjoy big support in our semifinal, on Saturday. It’s always good when you have your own fans in the arena. It gives you the feeling of having extra energy.”
Frida Ronning (BVB Dortmund)
About having only Danish and German teams participating in the EHF European League FINAL4:
“What’s fun about this tournament is that there will be two Danish- and two German teams. I think we will experience an excellent atmosphere in the arena.”
Stine Skogrand (Ikast Handbold)
About Ikast winning the EHF European League FINAL4 on the third attempt:
“As the saying goes: Third time is a charm, but we have not reached the final match, yet. We are excited, we feel confident and we are ready for the final weekend of the competition. Against Thueringer HC we have to perform at our very best to beat them.”
About the prospect of a Danish final:
“I think the chances for it are good, but we have to play the games first. Every match has its own life. Nykoping is also a very confident team after having reached the semifinals in the Danish play-offs.”
About who to focus on in the match against Thueringer HC:
“Anika Lott, of course. We have to be very careful and not let her come to close to our defense. And, then there is Johanna Stockschlaeder, on left wing, who we have to pay attention to as well.”
Jessica Ryde (Ikast Handbold)
About Ikast being the favorite to win it all:
“I like to be in a position when people have expectations and when your performance really matters. To us it’s a very nice compliment.
“I have deep respect for Thueringer HC, but I will approach this match like any other tough game.”
Lessons learned from last seasons semifinal loss against SG Bietigheim:
“I am not sure if we learned the most from this particular game. In the end we lost by one goal, against a very good team, in a match that we played quite well.
“On Saturday, we will play one game and only what happens during theses sixty minutes will matter in the end.”