Farewell of a champion

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Farewell of a champion


June 3, 2024




By J. Schuetz

 

Budapest, Hungary

The Results

Gyor AUDI ETO KC won the 2023/24 EHF Champions League for the sixth time in club history beating the surprise finalist SG Bietigheim 30:24 (17:12).

In the bronze medal match Team Esbjerg landed their first victory (37:33) against Metz HB since attending the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest.

Before the FINAL4

The momentum gained after another successful run in the French league, Metz HB entered the final stage of the competition as the odds-on favorite. The time appeared to be ready for “Les Dragonnes” to lift the trophy.

Under the auspices of a new head coach – Per Johansson had taken over from the hapless Ulrik Kirkely earlier in March – the record winners from Gyor were looking to finish the season on an upbeat note after surrendering the Hungarian championship and cup to league rival FTC.  To do so, left-back, Veronika Kristiansen wanted her team show a different game face.

 

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Team Esbjerg attended the FINAL4 for a third consecutive time and were aiming for a first win, a result that had eluded the team of head coach, Jesper Jensen, thus far.

The most successful German club in recent years – SG Bietigheim – had entered the semifinals as the underdog and most if not all of the pundits were in agreement that the 2022 EHF European League winners would not play a significant role at the MVM Dome, in Budapest.  Xenia Smits (SG Bietigheim) begged to differ.

The Semifinals

As so many times before the EHF Champions League FINAL4 had more than one surprise in store and defied expectations and predictions alike. Gyor AUDI ETO KC secured a victory by the narrowest of margins in the game against Team Esbjerg, while wasting a comfortable six goal lead in the second half.

The injured Marit Jacobsen (Team Esbjerg) was dearly missed on right-wing and zero goals from the line did not help either in Esbjerg’s effort to end their FINAL4 losing streak. Eleven goals from Nora Mork (6) and Henny Reistad (5) were not enough to make the difference.  Seconds before time, Sandra Toft, stopped a last ditch effort from Sanna Solberg and Gyor had returned to another final match.

Credit: EHF

In the second game of the day, Metz HB came to terms with the underdogs from Bietigheim. Coach Vestergaard had prepared his squad extremely well for the task at hand. The exceptional performance of Xenia Smits (9 goals) on both ends of the court was a key factor and paved the way to a final appearance of the German champions on the very first occasion.

Hatadou Sako (21% saves) in goal of Metz HB could not match the output of  Brazilian international, Gabi Moreschi (36% saves), while Sarah Bouktit (3/6) did not have the same impact from the line as in so many other games this season.

Credit: EHF

How it ended

In the last match of the EHF Champions League season, SG Bietigheim could not match the intensity and pace of Gyor AUDI ETO KC.  Coach Johansson kept rotating his starting line up early on and in Stine Oftedal’s (Gyor) last game on club level a victorious outcome was never in question.  Gyor quickly jumped to a six-goal lead and never looked back.

In the fight for the bronze medal, Metz HB, were forced into another loss within a 24- hours period, in a match dominated by Esbjerg’s Henny Reistad (13/16) and Nora Mork (13/14).  Alina Grijseels (10 goals) handed in a superb performance on behalf of Metz in her last appearance for the club before joining CSM Bucuresti over the summer.

The Difference

40% saves by Sandra Toft in the semifinal, followed by 42% of all shots stopped by Silje Solberg in goal for Gyor in the final match, help to explain the success of the Hungarian club in the 10th edition of the EHF Champions League.

For several Gyor players it was their very first Champions League win since joining the ambitious club. Left-back, Estelle Nze Minko briefly described her journey and that it took time to find her role.

 

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Wanted: A Winning Mentality

If there were any doubts regarding the mind set of a true champion, Nora Mork set the record straight following the bronze medal win of Team Esbjerg – “I may as well be on the top and push myself.”

She is the ultimate competitor and ended the tournament within three goals of winning the award as “Top Scorer”.

 

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History Made

Despite the loss in the final match of the competition, the SG Bietigheim had achieved a tremendous success and the development of the club is a result of the hard work of the previous coach – now national coach, Markus Gaugisch – and Jakob Vestergaard. Xenia Smits summed up her feelings after the win of the silver medal.

 

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For Gyor’s Per Johanssson, a coaching stint resembling more of a whirlwind over the past three months found its “Cinderella” ending. Prior to the FINAL4 he summed up what it takes to form a winning team.

Following a  season without winning a domestic trophy, club management and supporters were craving for a title.  Following Gyor’s third consecutive loss in the Hungarain Cup fianl against FTC, patiencce ran out and club management opted for change.

Johansson delivered on short notice and will stay on for at least another season.  Still, he will have his work cut out to form a new championship team with a slew of new players to integrate, who he did not pick.

Farewell of a true champion – Stine Oftedal

The 10th edition of the EHF Champions League turned into a picture perfect ending for the club career of Stine Oftedal, who left as a three-time FINAL4 winner, not to mention her countless achievements on the national and international handball stage

Recognized as the Most Valuable Player of the competition won’t do justice to one of the dominating players of all time. The impression she left on the sport of handball will be missed and her act will be a tough one to follow on- and off the court not only in Gyor, but the Norwegian national team as well.

Thank you and farewell, Stine!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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