Women´s FINAL4 – Final Day
MATCH REVIEW – Gyor Audi ETO are back on the European throne in women´s handball.
In a final, which was best advertising for women´s handball, Gyor defeated Vardar Skopje by one goal after extra time.
In the bronze match, last season´s winners, CSM Bucuresti beat Buducnost by six goals.
By Peter Bruun
Gyor Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 31:30 after extra time.
Regular Match 26:26 (15:12)
Before the Match
Both teams qualified for the last match of the season, following impressive performances in the semi-finals on Saturday.
While Gyor was the likely candidate to eliminate Buducnost, the way they accomplished it was still outstanding. The difference in that game was larger than the scoreboard suggested (26:20).
Vardar was also the better team against defending champions CSM Bucuresti, much better than the final result (38:33) indicated.
At first sight, the game looked like a duel between the most successful defense and the most effective attack.
Based on previous matches, Gyor had the best defense, while Champions League final debutants, Vardar, was the highest scoring team in the competition.
This match was fantastic advertisement for women´s handball; it had everything a fan could ask for – tension, excitement, drama and brilliant handball.
The triumph was obviously huge for Gyor who lost the final in 2016 against CSM Bucuresti after two extra times and a penalty shoot-out.
However, Vardar played their hearts out, showed a tremendous fighting spirit, but in the end it was not enough. You only needed to look at the players faces during the medal ceremony to fully appreciate their disappointment.
Gyor appeared to be in control most of the time, but they were never able to shake off their opponents completely.
Towards the end, however, Gyor were a tiny bit better and with cooler heads that made the triumph a deserved one.
Gyor won the first 30 minutes because of their defense efforts.
Even though the first half was equal for long periods – at least on the scoreboard – but Gyor took the initiative from the start.
Zsuzsanna Tomori pushed forward on Andrea Penezic, and this tactical move made Penezic considerably less dominant than she was in the semi-final against Bucuresti.
Eduarda Amorim defending well against Andrea Lekic also negatively impacted Vardar’s attack.
In the Gyor’s attack, Anita Görbicz was enjoying her time on left-wing once again, while Nycke Groot initiated her team’s fast breaks.
A score of 10:10 midway through the game was changed into a 14:10 advantage for Gyor, very much to the satisfaction of the vast majority of the 12,000 spectators in Papp Laszlo Arena.
Vardar’s coach, Eduard Koksharov, tried Alexandra Lacrabere as playmaker instead of Lekic, but it did not have the desired effect. In addition, Vardar committed too many technical errors.
A very efficient Gyor defense kept Vardar´s score down to only two goals in the remaining 14 minutes of the first half.
The Champions League final last year went into extra time, so why not again?
Obviously that’s not what Gyor wished for, but they let the game slip out of their hands as the second half progressed.
For a while, it looked like the contest would follow the same script as in the previous year.
Gyor went up by four goals (16:12), but Vardar, now with Lekic on the floor as playmaker, came back.
If anyone expected the Macedonians to roll over at this point were proven wrong. Vardar kept believing in their chances, and they were rewarded.
With less than eight minutes to play, Anja Althaus scored the equalizer – 24:24.
It was the fourth consecutive goal of the 34-year-old German line player, who had a fantastic game, scoring six goals, not missing on a single attempt, while showing tremendous heart and character when playing defense.
The equalizer was the start of nail-biting finish.
First, Tamara Mavsar tied the match once again, converting a penalty shot. And with 35 seconds left, Nora Mørk committed an offensive foul. All of a sudden, Vardar had a big chance to score for victory – with Tatiana Khmyrova as playmaker and Andrea Lekic as left-back.
However, the Macedonians got nothing out of their last attack, and extra time became reality.
Again, Gyor got off to the better start – but Vardar bounced back.
It took the Hungarian champion less than three minutes to get ahead 29:26 – and it only took Vardar two minutes to reduce the distance to one goal again.
This time, however, Gyor succeeded and stayed in control, relatively speaking.
They opened the second half of extra time, getting up by two (30:28), and when Nora Mørk made it 31:29 with one minute and 20 seconds left, it looked like game over.
Yet, Alexandra Lacrabere cut the deficit after taking a successful penalty shot with 58 seconds to go. Unfortunately, Vardar did not take possession of the ball again, and Gyor celebrate their second Champions League FINAL4 triumph since 2014.
Gyor could not have accepted letting another Champions League final slip out of their hands – and it did not happen. In the deciding moments, they and their brilliant coach, Ambros Martin, kept a cool heads and landed the victory.
Gyor are Champions League winners for a third time in the history of the competition. They dealt with the pressure of being the favorite successfully – hats off.
And Vardar can take comfort – the team put up a tremendous fight and played their best game at the FINAL4 ever. They will be back, for sure.