SEMI-FINAL REVIEW – A courageous comeback from FINAL4 debutants Metz Handball in the second half was not enough to stop Rostov-Don from reaching the Champions League final in their second FINAL4.
By Peter Bruun
Metz Handball vs Rostov-Don 25:27 (8:15)
Before the Match
Metz are the first French team ever in the Women´s FINAL4 – and the only French representative in any of the FINAL4’s this season.
Rostov-Don made their FINAL4 debut last year, but would obviously be determined to improve their fourth place from that occasion.
The two teams in the first semi-final met already in the main round, and on both occasions, Metz won – 29:25 at home and no less than 26:18 away.
While Metz came as FINAL4 debutants, one of their players, versatile backcourt player Gnonsiane Niombla had previous Champions League experience, having played for CSM Bucuresti the past two seasons.
Rostov-Don could do even better, though, as they had a former Champions League winner in their squad.
In 2016, their Brazilian goalkeeper, Mayssa Pessoa, won the competition with CSM Bucuresti.
Already on the day before the semi-final, the coaches of the two teams, Ambros Martín from Rostov-Don and Emmanuel Mayonnade agreed that previous results and performances did not matter.
The match certainly proved them right.
Rostov seemed to decide the match already in the first half, which they won by seven goals, but as Metz finally got their nerves under control in the second half, the French staged quite the comeback.
Rostov-Don was almost as dominating as Györ had been in their first half against Vipers.
While Metz showed obvious nervousness in their first Champions League semi-final, Rostov-Don took the opportunity to take the upper hand from the start.
An early two-goal lead soon increased to four as Rostov got great help from Anna Sedoykina in goal.
It almost looked, as if the Russian international in the Rostov goal has been watching her French colleague Amandine Leynaud in the previous semi-final and was determined to do even better.
Anyway, 34-year-old Sedoykina produced one great safe after the other, as Rostov went on to a five-goal lead at 9:4 and again at 11:6 and 12:7.
A sigh of fear went through the 200 Rostov fans in the arena, as Anna Vyakhireva had to limp off with an injured ankle with nine and a half minutes left of the half.
However, taping from the team physiotherapist sent the vivid right back onto the court already before the break.
Rostov took a seven-goal lead with them to half-time. Considering the big difference between the teams, it was no wonder that the only dramatic incident was Rostov’s coach, Ambros Martín, getting a yellow card for putting down his timeout card after his team had lost the ball.
Metz emerged from the locker room as team on a mission.
A more aggressive defense posture also helped and so did Ivana Kapitanovic, who replaced Laura Glauser in the French goal from the start of the second half.
Sedoykina, whose saving percentage dropped, was replaced by Mayssa Pessoa eventually, but the Brazilian international could not stop the French comeback either
Metz managed to get as close as two goals down by the middle of the second half, and when Kseniya Makeeva was hit by her third suspension, resulting in a red card with 14 minutes left to play, Metz and their fans really sensed their chance of turning the tide completely.
However, the French champion never got closer than those two goals, and as Pessoa saved a penalty from Grace Zaadi with two minutes left, handing Rostov the ball back at the score of 27:24, it was all over.
Player of the Match
Anna Sedoykina was a hot candidate for the award for a long time, but Vyakhireva takes it.
Becoming top scorer with seven goals despite struggling with obvious ankle pain for more than a half is a performance that calls for admiration.
The two Turkish referees, Kursad Erdogan and Ibrahim Özdeniz, simply did not prove to be qualified for a handball match at this level.
They appeared insecure in their decision making, often confused – their line, if any, was hard to detect. In some situations, their calls even seemed to depend on players telling them what just happened.
The Papp Laszlo Arena was not quite full anymore, although many Györ fans and other Hungarian spectators stayed.
However, the fans of the two teams got involved; the supporters of Metz in particular, made a fine contribution to keeping the excellent atmosphere.
Rostov-Don have about 22 hours to find out, what they can do about Györ in the final and in that respect, a big question is how the right ankle of Vyakhireva will look like by tomorrow.
Metz, on the other hand, will have to prepare for the FINAL4 debutants’ duel, fighting for the bronze medal against Vipers.