Neagu and Perez de Vargas the players to watch at the FINAL4
As the EHF Champions League 2016/17 reaches its business end, Cristina Neagu and Gonzalo Perez de Vargas prove they are in top form as they are named April’s EHF Players of the Month.
The EHF panel of correspondents have chosen their favourites for the last month, with Neagu and Perez de Vargas the clear winners.
The Romanian back led her team to their fourth consecutive EHF FINAL4, scoring 19 times in Buducnost’s runaway 66:47 win against Larvik in the Women’s EHF Champions League Quarter-finals.
In the men’s competition, the 26-year-old Spanish goalkeeper was superb between the posts in Barcelona’s tough quarter-finals against THW Kiel. It was Perez de Vargas’ saves that kept the Catalan side alive and helped them power to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.
Neagu has battled injury since the start of the season, missing two games in the group phase, but returned in superb form in 2017.
Injury-free, with her mobility back at full strength, the Romanian star has been an integral part of Buducnost’s main round comeback.
Her 19 goals against Larvik made Neagu the unanimous choice for the EHF Player of the Month award, with Isabelle Gullden and Nora Mørk completing the top three.
Buducnost will hope to have Neagu in top form this weekend in Budapest, as the Montenegrin side aim to reclaim the Women’s EHF Champions League titles won in 2012 and 2015.
Neagu was also the key for Buducnost in their successful 2015 campaign and will try to end her four-year stint in Podgorica with a bang. The Romanian left back has signed with CSM Bucuresti for the next two seasons.
EHF Players of the Month – April 2017: Female
1 Cristina Neagu (ROU) – Buducnost/MNE
2 Isabelle Gullden (SWE) – CSM Bucuresti/ROU
3 Nora Mørk (NOR) – Györi Audi ETO KC/HUN
4 Carmen Martin (ESP) – CSM Bucuresti/ROU
5 Andrea Penezic (CRO) – HC Vardar/MKD
The goalkeeper who could have missed it all
The road to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 is difficult, therefore teams must be at their best to earn one of the four tickets for the ultimate battle for the title.
Teams need a top goalkeeper who can make a difference when it counts. This was exactly the case with FC Barcelona Lassa, as the Spanish powerhouse profited from a memorable performance by Perez de Vargas.
The 26-year-old ace made 23 saves in the second leg of Barcelona’s quarter-final against Kiel, powering his side to a 49:46 aggregate win, which saw the Spanish champions through to their 14th semi-final in Europe’s premier competition.
But Perez de Vargas’ road to his stellar performance was a bumpy one, as the goalkeeper almost did not play the double header against Kiel due to finger surgery.
“For me it’s a great joy cause it means that we played at a high-enough level to be in Cologne again.
“April was a month full of emotions, with my finger surgery, the doubt that I could play the quarter-finals and, of course, the happiness of reaching the FINAL4,” said Perez de Vargas after learning he had been named the EHF Player of the Month.
Luka Cindric and Arpad Sterbik from Vardar placed second and fourth in the rankings, while the other two teams still in the race for the title, PSG and Veszprém, saw their powerful backs Nikola Karabatic and Laszlo Nagy place third and fifth.
EHF Players of the Month – April 2017: Male
1 Gonzalo Perez de Vargas (ESP) – FC Barcelona Lassa/ESP
2 Luka Cindric (CRO) – HC Vardar/MKD
3 Nikola Karabatic (FRA) – Paris Saint-Germain Handball/FRA
4 Arpad Sterbik (ESP) – HC Vardar/MKD
5 Laszlo Nagy (HUN) – Telekom Veszprém/HUN