National Champions of Europe – Women Part 4: Balkans
Part four of the six-part series on 2017/18 national champions takes us to the Balkan region, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, FYR Macedonia, Kosovo and Romania.
Podravka and Lokomotiva share trophies
It was another interesting season for the women’s competition in Croatia. Lokomotiva were very close to winning both titles, however, Podravka managed to take the victories when it counted.
Lokomotiva also slipped up twice during the season, which made easier for Podravka to win their 24th championship, but Lokomotiva still had something to be happy about at the end of the season. After a wait of four years, they were crowned cup winners for the fifth time.
Jagodina make history after dramatic finish
This season’s surprise package, ZORK Jagodina, finally got their hands on the elusive trophy, after finishing as runners-up five times previously.
When Jagodina recorded their second play-off victory, making it 2:1 in the series, all eyes were on the play-off game against Cup winners Bekament in Arandjelovac. It took extra-time and a penalty shoot-out, in a passion-fuelled match, for Jagodina to clinch their maiden league title.
Jagodina’s 20-year-old goalkeeper Jelena Djurasinovic (12 saves, including four penalties) was particularly impressive under pressure in the match and was the deciding factor behind this historic win.
This monumental achievement marks the first national title for any sports club from the city of Jagodina, ensuring it will be remembered for some time to come.
Undefeated Buducnost nurture champions’ pedigree
The younger-than-ever Buducnost team proceeded a long way towards building the pedigree in their new generation, with yet another double triumph this season.
Their genius tactician Dragan Adzic is close to creating a new force to be reckoned with, as Buducnost won their 12th consecutive double in a dominant fashion, demonstrated by their 33:11 Cup final win against league runners-up Levalea.
The rampant Montenegrin powerhouse enjoyed an undefeated season, astonishing their opponents nationwide, with an average winning margin of 21 goals in the play-offs.
With the impressive level of performance from the youngsters, the two-time Women’s EHF Champions League winners and 2017/18 quarter-finalists must be eyeing a swift return to continental glory.
Grude confirm dominance
HZRK Grude showed an exceptional fighting spirit in a dominant season to bring home the trophy.
However, Grude were unable to defend another double, as ZRK Izvidjac surprised everyone, and took home the cup after a thrilling encounter, which ended with a penalty shoot-out, where Izvidjac were more composed.
The fourth straight league title, and the manner of the victory – finishing the season undefeated, 11 points clear of the runners-up – is a clear sign that Bosnian women’s handball remains in the grasp of HZRK Grude.
CSM Bucuresti take fourth consecutive trophy
For the fourth time in a row, CSM Bucuresti were crowned champions after another season that resembled a walk in the park for the Romanian powerhouse.
CSM lost only one game, against Women’s EHF Cup winners SCM Craiova, and collected 75 points from a possible 78 throughout another dominating season.
Cristina Neagu’s return to the Romanian league after a four-year hiatus, during which she played for Buducnost, galvanised the fans, who flocked to see the 29-year-old superstar.
However, Neagu, the top scorer of the Women’s EHF Champions League 2017/18, failed to breach the top 10 ranking within Romania, as she was rested for several games during the season.
With their fourth consecutive title, CSM are now trailing only Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea, Universitatea Timisoara, Stiinta Bacau and Rapid Bucuresti as the most successful team in the history of the competition.
Golden farewell for HC Vardar’s star roster
Before going separate ways at the end of the season, HC Vardar had one clear goal: Win the Champions League trophy. However, Irina Dibirova’s squad failed to fulfill this goal, and the consolation prize for the Macedonian champions was their sixth domestic title.
Vardar were dominant in every single match they played in the national league and their final match against Metalurg was no different, when Vardar celebrated a 49:24 (23:13) victory and won gold.
The scenario was repeated in the Macedonian Cup, where Vardar easily raised the trophy for the sixth consecutive time after beating Metalurg.
These achievements make Vardar the second most successful women’s team in the history of Macedonian handball.
In April, Vardar also won the trophy in the women’s regional handball league, securing the second consecutive title in this competition.
Shqiponja write history
It was a season full of excitement, with the champions not decided until the last minutes of the final match.
Two teams, Shqiponja and Vushtria, were ahead of all others and both finished with 33 points after 20 rounds. However, thanks to a better goal difference in their direct clashes, Shqiponja raised the trophy in Kosovo.
The deciding match was a true thriller, with the score tied at 19:19 with three minutes remaining. Shqiponja had the better finish, scoring the final two goals to claim a 21:19 win, which brought the club their first trophy in the history of the competition, 19 years after the team was founded.
In the Kosovan Cup, Istogu surprised everyone, as they earned their first title in this competition after winning the final against Kastrioti 20:19.