Abbingh moves into spotlight as Rostov clash with Metz
The neck-and-neck race for top spot in Group 1 of the Women’s EHF Champions League Main Round will get new impetus this Saturday, when Rostov-Don and Metz Handball take to the court.
Rostov and Metz are currently sharing the lead with 11 points, one ahead of Buducnost, so the team that gets the two points this weekend will be a strong favourite to advance to the quarter-final as the group winners.
The match (live on ehfTV.com on Saturday from 14:30 CET) is a special one for Rostov left back Lois Abbingh for various reasons.
The Dutch international played two years in France for Issy Paris Hand - as Paris 92 were called until this season - before joining Rostov in the summer of 2018.
Also, Abbingh will play against her new head coach at the Dutch national team: Metz coach Emmanuel Mayonnade was announced two weeks ago as Helle Thomsen’s successor at the helm of ‘Oranje’.
An intense match against Metz
Indeed, Abbingh is expecting an intense match against Metz - but mainly because the French team is as strong as they are.
“Metz look very good in the Champions League, they play freely. That is nice to see but I hope we can beat them Saturday,” the left back tells ehfCL.com.
No wonder Abbingh speaks of Metz with a lot of respect. When both teams met in France in January for the opening game of the main round, Rostov suffered a 29:25 defeat, despite seven goals from the Dutch back.
“In that match nobody played her game like she normally does,” Abbingh says. “It was the first match after the EHF EURO break, and you saw that all players came back from playing completely different systems with their national teams. That match against Metz came at the wrong moment for us. On the other hand, Metz are just a super strong team, especially at home.”
Playing in Rostov’s own Palace of Sport, it could be a different game this weekend, “but I do not think at all it will be easy for us. Both teams have a lot of good players. It will be a close game.”
With two years of experience playing in the French league, Abbingh might be able to give Rostov coach Ambros Martin some insight information on Metz.
“In the video analysis we talk about players which I have already met a few times before. So maybe I know these players a little bit better,” Abbingh says. “But Ambros is a coach who does a lot of analysing so most of the time he knows everything about our opponents.”
The defeat in Metz last month was only the second match this entire season which Rostov failed to win. In the Russian domestic league, they won all 18 matches so far, but in the EHF Champions League Group Matches, they were held to a 29:29 draw by another French team, Brest Bretagne Handball.
“The game against Brest was early in the competition. Everybody was still getting used to the new playing system, to the new coach. After the game against Brest we started to play very well,” Abbingh says.
Injuries have forced coach Martin to be creative
Rostov have to overcome a string of injuries this season, with many of the leading players out for at least a few matches. Anna Vyakhireva is out for the rest of the season after hurting her elbow in the first game against Metz.
The injuries have forced coach Martin to be creative, and one of his solutions was to move Abbingh from the left to the centre of the court in the first part of the season.
“It’s nice to see the game from a different side. As the centre back, you decide how to play,” the Dutch international says. “I did well and was happy about that. But now, Vyakhireva is injured, so I am playing on the left again as Anna Sen is on the right. We just play the positions where we are needed. All players handle it pretty well. We can be proud of that.”
Developing as a centre back makes an even more complete player of Abbingh, whose international career also includes stints in Germany (VfL Oldenburg) and Romania (HCM Baia Mare). Still, her most recent move from France to Russia has been the biggest step so far. She is the only Dutch player ever to feature in the Russian league.
“It is pretty difficult for family or friends to come over and visit me. That was tough in the beginning, I really had the feeling that I was far away from home,” says Abbingh, who has been accompanied in Rostov by her boyfriend since his visa finally got sorted.
When announcing her transfer to Rostov a year ago, Abbingh said she wanted to play for a club that could reach and win the Women's EHF FINAL4.
And that’s still the club’s main goal.
“We have the quality but we also have a lot of injuries. We have proven that our squad is good enough to deal with those setbacks,” Abbingh says. “It was my dream to play at a top club. It’s great to be surrounded by so many good players. And our trainings with Ambros are very interesting. I have really found my place here.”