The extraordinary fate of Buducnost and Larvik
As with their contrasting, yet characteristic playing style, rooted in tradition of both teams, Buducnost and Larvik are at the two ends of the Women’s EHF Champions League spectrum.
Even further, watching them play against each other was like the reaction of matter against anti-matter, with the home side running out 14-goal winners (31:17) in the first leg of the quarter-finals.
Historic and familiar
Both the trophy-laden teams have a rich Women’s EHF Champions League history, including some memorable matches against each other.
In fact, a knockout phase win against Larvik has always been a good omen for the Podgorica club, as Buducnost lifted both their Women’s EHF Champions League trophies after defeating Larvik before (in the 2011/12 semi-finals and 2014/15 final).
However, the similarities do not stop there. Larvik had also had their share of good fortune against the feisty Montenegrins. The first, and so far, only, Women’s EHF Champions League title for the Norwegian powerhouse came after that semi-final triumph against Buducnost in 2010/11.
Coincidentally, the 2014/15 Women’s EHF FINAL4 won by Buducnost was the last time the two have met before Sunday’s clash in the Montenegro capital.
Since then many things have changed which have affected the truly extraordinary fate of these two great clubs.
No demonstration of power
The first leg of this season’s Women’s EHF Champions League Quarter-final match between the two was quite a lesson for those willing to learn.
Already looking to the future, Buducnost coach Dragan Adzic is on a mission to integrate home-grown talent into the first team as seamlessly as possible. This mission has led his side to a season of ups and downs; ranging from their main round home defeat against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (33:25) and then their 14-goal rout of Larvik (31:17) on Sunday.
But despite the great result for the home side - which may have prompted many faithful fans to already book their tickets to the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4 in Budapest next month - be under no illusion, Buducnost are not odds-on to make it through to the showpiece event.
However, given the state of both teams this season, it was not a demonstration of power; but a display of what a determined, well-coached team can do, upon discovering opponents’ weakness.
And unfortunately for Larvik, these weaknesses were more than apparent.
Fall from grace?
Despite departing players and financial instability, which have contributed to their recent fall from grace, and made us all see a completely different Larvik on Sunday, the Norwegians deserve credit for a very consistent season.
However, the very reason for their catastrophic defeat could also be found in their valiant effort to fight tooth and nail through the Women’s EHF Champions League this season with an understrength team and inadequate backup compared to previous seasons.
The Norwegian side came to the quarter-finals with an injury-depleted team, able to field no more than 11 names in their squad for the match in Montenegro, including two goalkeepers, which practically reduced them to just two bench players in rotation.
The last hurrah
Another thing in common of the two teams is their long-term vision and club policy, which brought them the worldwide acclaim they revel in. As part of that very vision, the 2017/18 season will see major changes to both teams.
Larvik have nine of their players potentially leaving the club, and maintaining the model which bred the likes of Heidi Loke, Nora Mørk and, most recently, Amanda Kurtovic.
It is also Kurtovic (joining CSM Bucuresti) who leads the pack of departing players, including Marit Malm Frafjord (CSM), Sandra Toft (Esbjerg), Sanna Solberg (Esbjerg) and Gro and Anja Hammerseng-Edin who are retiring.
Buducnost are in no different situation come the end of the current season, with two of their key players, Cristina Neagu and Dragana Cvijic leaving the club to join CSM and Vardar respectively.
Furthermore, only four players who won the Women’s EHF Champions League title in 2011/12 are still at the club - Milena Knezevic, Suzana Lazovic, Katarina Bulatovic and Dragana Cvijic.
The figures are the same with Larvik too - just Karoline Dyhre Breivang, Linn Kristin Riegelhuth Koren, Gro Hammerseng and Tine Stange are still at the club from those who lifted the trophy in 2011.
With Buducnost traveling to Larvik for the return fixture against the old rival with a comfortable 14-goal cushion in their hands, the Montenegrin team is likely looking at their fourth consecutive EHF FINAL4 and the last hurrah of their trophy-rich generation in Budapest.
However, as it was already confirmed so many times - with handball you never really know.
Whoever makes it to Budapest it will certainly not be the last time we have seen the two giants clash and write the history of Women’s EHF Champions League.