Vardar aim for first trophy in 2017 final rematch
After dominant performances in their respective semi-finals, Györi Audi ETO KC and HC Vardar will meet once more in the battle for the Women’s EHF Champions League trophy. Györ won the trophy in 2017 by one goal in extra time, so Vardar hope for a different result when they take the court in Papp Laszlo Budapest Sportarena on Sunday.
- If Vardar win the trophy, it will be their first ever Champions League title after leaving Budapest empty-handed four times
- Györ have the chance to take their fourth Champions League trophy and become the first team to defend a FINAL4 title
- The current Vardar line-up have their last chance to claim the title together before most of the star-studded team go their separate ways this summer
- It is coach Ambros Martin’s last Champions League game with Györ, after leading the team to all three of their trophies in the competition
Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Sunday 13 May, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Both Györ and HC Vardar confirmed their strength by taking impressive victories in their semi-finals, with injury-depleted Györ outclassing CSM Bucuresti’s powerful squad 26:20 and Vardar handing Rostov-Don their first Champions League defeat since November 6, 2017 (25:19). The final will be a true clash of the titans – and both sides have a point to prove, as Vardar aim to make up for four years of disappointment while Györ want to keep the trophy in Hungary.
Both teams were impressive in different ways in their semi-finals. Györ showed it is no coincidence that the two 2017/18 All-star positions won by players from their team – goalkeeper Kari Aalvik Grimsbø and best defender Zsuzsanna Tomori (currently injured) – are at their own end of the court, with an outstanding defensive performance that left CSM’s world-class back court extremely frustrated.
With such defence behind them, Györ were confident in attack and everything fell into place perfectly for the Hungarian side.
“We showed again that even though we had challenges during the season, we are strong as a team and we stay together,” said Grimsbø after the semi-final. “I think we need to do the same tomorrow and we will fight until the end.”
“It’s going to be physically like a war”
There is no denying there was something off in Rostov’s semi-final game, as the team that arrived at the FINAL4 riding an unbeaten run of nine Champions League matches had significant trouble finding their rhythm – but that should not detract from acknowledging Vardar’s polished performance.
Their attack, led by seven goals each from backs Andrea Penezic and Andrea Lekic, ran like clockwork; they conceded no fast break goals; and the defence stood strong with the support of two excellent keepers – Amandine Leynaud for most of the match, with Inna Suslina coming in for three penalties and saving two.
On Sunday, Vardar hope to repeat their performance and end the long wait for the trophy.
“An amazingly tough match is going to await us, but first we have to take care about recovery. We have less than 24 hours for this,” says Lekic. “It’s going to be physically like a war.”
Perfect conditions for a top-quality match
The 12,500-capacity Papp Laszlo Budapest Sportarena was almost entirely behind Györ in the first semi-final, but Lekic says whether the crowd are cheering for their opponents or Vardar, the atmosphere can only be a positive.
“I think this is why I started to play handball. This atmosphere makes me happy – makes me alive and pushes me to give my maximum,” says Lekic, while Györ centre back Stine Oftedal looks forward to repeating the experience of her first FINAL4 match in Budapest: “It’s really amazing. It’s an atmosphere that you should look a long time to find something like this somewhere else, even in handball.”
The final will be the sixth Champions League match between Vardar and Györ, with three victories for Györ, one for Vardar and one draw so far. While Györ beat Vardar to take the trophy in 2017, Vardar were the team to eliminate Györ from the only FINAL4 event they have missed when they won the quarter-final clash in 2014/15.
For one of the Györ's players the final match will have a special flavour as Anja Althaus in the Vardar's uniform was one of the main reason why Vardar managed to push the Hungarian side to their limits in the last year's final. The German line player planned to retire after that extra time thriller but an unexpected phone call from Györ's management made her change her decision and now she is eyeing her third Champions League title after two from her time with Viborg in 2009 and 2010.Author: Courtney Gahan / br