“I’ll be in this fight for three more years”
June 24, 2017
By Laura Agena
The European club season may be over, but three-time Champion’s League winner, Eduarda Amorim, still has some responsibilities with the national team. The Pan American Championship is on the homestretch in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and for the three frontrunners spots for the 2017 World cup in Germany await. Ahead of the competition, the Brazilian left-back spared a few moments to talk to stregspiller.com about the upcoming tournament, her European experience, the new reality of Brazil’s national team, her dreams about a safari, another Champions League title, and her ambition to stay at the top of the handball elite.
It’s been a little bit more than a month after Győri Audi ETO KC’s success at the Tippmix EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, where they lifted their third EHF Champions League trophy in club history. Only a few days later, the Hungarian powerhouse also won the domestic league, with three matches left to play. And although a long season had come to an end in Hungary, the 2014 IHF World Player of the Year could still not call it a day. There’s one more task to be completed before she can finally think of her holidays – Greece being the most likely destination.
As the Pan American Championship in Buenos Aires (18th – 25th of June) are underway, Eduarda Amorim reflects on Sergio Graciano’s bravery, as interim coach who will try to lead Brazil to their 10th continental title:
EA: He’s very courageous for taking over the team at this moment and I’m very thankful to him. Daniel ‘Cubano’ Suarez and Cristiano Rocha, are the other coaches who will share the responsibilities. This is a delicate moment for us and he’s taking a big risk here – working with a team he doesn’t know very well, who he never worked with before, and on top of it he has to deliver results and win the tournament.
What’s your expectation after these first few training sessions and matches with the new coaching staff and the Pan American Championship?
EA: The training sessions were good, the new girls came very motivated and if they have a chance to move to Europe, they could help the national team on a higher level. Things are going well, the coach is asking us to practice a more offensive defense. We’re still trying to adapt to it, which is not easy. We’ve had ups and downs in the matches we’ve played, but we’re working well; we will be neither good nor bad.
Jorge Dueñas was confirmed as the new coach of the national team, what are your expectations and thoughts?
EA: It was very good news. I think he will implement a much more collective dynamic in the team. Our meeting with him was positive, he doesn’t seem to be too worried for having such a weakened team – that’s very encouraging and comforting, it means that he trusts our evolution.
The appointment of a foreign coach was very much expected as Brazil reached their previous peak under the auspices of Danish Morten Soubak.
EA: Brazilian coaches are not very up to date nowadays. They can’t follow the various leagues closely, where the Brazilians are playing; a foreign coach, will also bring all of the dynamics from Europe. He will be able to do that part of the job better. And with the work of the Brazilian coaches who discover and develop talents in Brazil, they could make a complete job all together.
More than a decade playing abroad helped “Duda” understand what it takes to be at the top. But she remembers her beginnings very well.
EA: I started playing handball because of my older sister (Ana Amorim), who also played for the national team. I always attended her training sessions and one time the coach invited me to join them and from then on I began to play. In the beginning it was more like a hobby for me. I did physical activities at school as well and gymnastics. So, handball was just one more sport, but when we moved to the city and began playing school and club tournaments, I remember thinking that I wanted to become a professional handball player and play in Europe, and for the national team, of course.
The city was São Bernardo do Campo, in São Paulo; a state that, according to “Duda”, has the best and most competitive league in Brazil. Ana had received an offer to play for a team in that city, and Eduarda went along at the age of 15. And from then on she never stopped. She played in Metodista/São Bernardo for two seasons and then moved to USCS/São Caetano. But soon, she received a call from Macedonia, where her sister was playing. In 2005 she joined Kometal Skopje and her dreams of a professional career took on a new dimension.
What was it like to move from Brazil to Macedonia? What were the biggest differences?
EA: There were many differences, but mainly in the dynamics of the game. Back in Brazil, we didn’t really learn much about tactics, it was more like 1, 2, 3, and then just shoot; so we didn’t have much of a rhythm. The speed of the game was very different, and of course, the amount of training sessions was very different as well. When I first arrived, we had an Ukrainian coach and I had to adapt from one training per day and four sessions a week, in Brazil, to two training sessions per day, that was a very drastic change for me. Also, the structure of the club was very different: we had very cool locker rooms, a court that was exclusively used for handball, our uniforms, and shoes. In Brazil things were much more difficult – our shoes had to last an entire season, and sometimes we would only receive playing clothes, but we didn’t really get the whole outfit. And of course the other difference was the culture. They were not very welcoming towards foreign athletes, so it was a bit hard to adapt to the team. It was a cultural shock.
After three seasons in Macedonia, you moved to Győr, what did you know about the team and what made you make that decision?
EA: I don’t remember it well, but at that time I think I only had offers from them and from Hypo Nieder-Österreich, and I chose Győr because they were a very good team. I mean, they had Anita Görbicz! I knew that if I wanted to improve, I had to take that step and it was a very nice challenge for me. My club had some troubles at the time and I wanted to leave, and then I received this offer, which suited me well. It was a team that played Champions League; in Kometal I also played Champions League, but while I was there we never got past the group stage. So, it was easy for me to make a decision. I had some doubts with regards to how I’d adapt or how it would be to play among all of these stars, but I took the challenge.
Did you find major differences between Kometal and Győr?
EA: The biggest difference for me was that now, I was alone, so that was very difficult. When I was in Kometal, I had my sister there, so if I had some sort of trouble, I had her to talk through it and the problems would go away much faster. But here (in Győr ed.) there weren’t any foreigners in the beginning, there were only two players who spoke English, and only one of them would really help me. So, for me it was quite an adjustment; also with regards to handball, because the rhythm was much faster than in Kometal and there were more matches scheduled.
“Duda” claims that being Brazilian was not a barrier to her career, but she feels it took longer for the world of handball to recognize her.
EA: At first, if I scored six goals, and a European player scored six goals, it was her who’d be in the media. When I arrived in Győr, for example, it took me about a year to show everyone what I could do and be respected. Now, I feel very respected here, I think people like my ‘Brazilian style’ of playing and the way I fight on the court.
Amorim, who was recently named as “Best Defensive Player” of the 2016/17 Champions League season, is undoubtedly one of the most complete handball players these days if not the past few years. Although she was honored because of her defensive skills, she also finished 12th on the top scorer’s list this past season with 70 goals. And she was the third best scorer of her team behind Anita Görbicz and Nora Mørk, who are the ones who take all penalty shots from the 7 meter mark.
The Brazilian left-back has been one of Győr’s keys to success in recent history and, along with team captain Görbicz, she’s one of the players who’s been with the club for the longest time. By 2019 – the year when her current contract expires – she’ll have completed a decade at the Hungarian club. But alongside many unforgettable victories, there were some painful losses. Last year’s defeat at the FINAL4 was one of those. It wasn’t easy for the Hungarian squad to pick themselves up after the loss against CSM Bucuresti, but they did in great fashion.
How did you start the season after last year’s loss at the FINAL4?
EA: Even though we were very sad at that moment, we remembered that a second place also was a good result. We were very close and we really did everything we could throughout the tournament. It was really the details that made the difference and, to be honest, 7-meter throws are not exactly a fair tiebreaker. So, this season Ambros (Martin ed.) started off by showing us videos of the shots that we missed and the goals that we conceded during the last FINAL4, and he was much more demanding. Actually not only him, but all the players; and from the beginning, we started to work thinking of the end of the season. We started off very well and until Heidi Løke became pregnant, we were playing some very good handball.
EA: And then the stress increased a little bit. She really makes a difference in our team, I’d say she’s half of the team, and we had to adapt to her absence both in attack and in defense. But Yvette (Broch ed.) showed a great performance, she was very brave and she did a great job in her position. We’ve had ups and downs in the Main Round and I think we felt Heidi’s absence a little bit. And then many of us played the Olympic Games and the European Championship, so we were a bit tired as well. We’ve had some tough losses and that helped us build our confidence towards the final stages. I think last year, we played so well and won so much that by the time we got to the finals, maybe we got a bit scared and that’s why we couldn’t play so well. This year we had more problems along the way, we also lost the Hungarian Cup, and so we built our confidence and we were aware that if we kept our cool in the tough moments of the game, we would succeed. As we got closer to the FINAL4, we talked a lot about the fact that we needed to play like a team, and we were able to do just that in the end. I think everyone was very happy with the results, very satisfied, because we all got to score and it was a weekend where we all stepped up.
And you made it all the way to the end after making it through the so-called “group of death”…
EA: Well, yes – and I think it was good to have such strong rivals, because the toughest matches – the ones that finish with a one-goal difference – are the ones that are closer to the reality of a FINAL4. When you win by more than 10 goals, you really can’t learn much. For example, after we tied against Larvik on home court we said: ‘It was good that this happened now, because now we’re talking about it, now we want to improve on what’s wrong. When we win by 10, no one wants to talk about it’. So, the difficult matches were the ones that helped us getting stronger, even last year’s (Champions League ed.) loss made us stronger.
And Amorim knows what it’s like to come back stronger. After she ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament on her left knee, in November of 2014 during a friendly match with the national team, she received a major reward that may have boosted her will to recover even faster – the recognition as the World’s Best Player of the Year granted by the IHF. She received her award during half time of the 2015 World Championship final in Denmark, a tournament that Brazil entered as defending champion. But the team was upset by Romania in the eight-finals. In the mixed zone, with the award in hand, she said: “I will be back at the top, and this award is my biggest motivation to do it”.
When asked about what she would do with the prize money, she said that she would very likely save it for some holidays and to fulfill her dream to go on a safari, someday. But in 2016, holidays never came because an Olympic year was ahead of her. She reckoned that the long-term injury that took her off the courts for nearly a year was the consequence of a highly demanding season, when she almost didn’t have any time off. The misalignments between the European and Pan-American calendars make it harder for Pan-American athletes to have proper rest time and that’s something she’s been struggling with her entire career. As a matter of fact that she hasn’t participated in a continental tournament since 2013.
EA: This has always been a fight, because the Pan American Championship does not fall within the “international weeks”; if I wanted to, I could refuse to play, because it’s not good, nor healthy for me. I understand if the calendars can’t be matched, but if there’s an “international week” it should be respected by the Pan-American Federation, otherwise it’s very bad for us athletes. I finished the season in Hungary on May 28th, I had less than 10 days off, and I couldn’t stop working out because I had to be ready to face another tournament. And once the Pan American Championship is over, I will have – miraculously – 20 days of holidays. But some of my teammates will have to be back in Hungary after only seven days. So, we have zero rest and that makes it very difficult for our bodies to cope with all of it.
So, you usually don’t have much of free time that your body needs to recover?
EA: That’s right. We’ve had an Olympic year – so, OK, that doesn’t happen every year and it’s ‘normal’ to not have too much rest, we had only two days off. We finished the season and we started the new one right away. That’s the main problem for us, not having enough rest in between seasons, not having enough holidays. When I got injured, I think it was because I finished the season and went with the national team and then I finished another season and went with the national team again, and eventually, I ended up not having any rest in June. It’s really a very delicate situation.
Do you think that the many matches played throughout the year are too much?
EA: In my case, I don’t think they’re too many, I think they’re OK. But the season has a total of 11 months and during some weeks we have only one match. I think we could fit in two matches per week and make the season last for 10 months and a half and then have something like 15 days off in December, also to give some rest to the girls that play the European Championship. That way we could come back well rested and with renewed energy. Maybe men do have more matches, but they also have more players, so their rotation may be longer. But us women don’t have as many players, therefore, our rotation is shorter and rest time is less. We end up having shorter careers; we play maybe one or two years less because our bodies are not fresh enough.
“Duda” claims that while her club teammates met with their national teams last week and already started their holidays, she still has to work until this weekend, which will leave her less time for rest once again. But that nuisance soon will be gone.
EA: But it’s ok, I am still in this fight for the next three years, after that I can relax and rest for good.
She doesn’t say it out loud, but the 2013 World Champion and MVP suggests the idea of retiring after the current Olympic cycle is over.
Have you made this decision already or will you pull an ‘Anja Althaus’? (The German line player had announced her retirement after the 2017 FINAL4 and then surprised everyone by joining Győri Audi ETO KC for the 2017/18 season).
EA: You never know what tomorrow will bring. I’ve spent many years on the top level, really many. Since I’ve moved to Győr – except for one year – we’ve remained among Europe’s best four teams. This level of competition requires a great deal of work, and the degree of exhaustion is higher when compared to athletes from Norway, for example, who have less matches. I think three more years will be enough.
And after all these years, what dreams have you accomplished and which ones are you still chasing?
EA: Well, I dreamt everything little by little. At the beginning of my career, I dreamt of playing in Europe; when I made it to Europe, I wanted to become one of the best left-backs, and I was able to accomplish it. Then, I dreamt of winning the Champions League. When I saw that we were getting better with the national team, I dreamt of a medal. It was a surprising result for Brazil, but we did it – fortunately I was able to fulfill all of those dreams. I think we missed the Olympic medal, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. I thought we could’ve gotten at least a third place, but it didn’t happen and now, I think it will be very difficult to do it in Tokyo because this generation is not too strong. From now on, my dream is to win at least one more Champions League (title ed.) in these last three years that I have ahead of me. And speaking more personally, I’d love to have some children and form a family.
And to go on a safari…
EA: Oh, my – can’t forget my safari! I can’t get that trip out of my head!