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A titan’s clash for a spot in the final

In a few moments time the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL 4 will throw off with a clash that is sure to deliver some jaw dropping performances. It’s Budućnost against Györi Audi ETO KC, a confontation that has become a classic in the past few years and that will most definitely be a grand opening for the much awaited weekend.

It will be the first encounter of the season for these teams that have a history that dates back to 2006 and the Cup Winners’ Cup final. Both teams have already won the coveted trophy twice each, and have played against each other in two of those finals, the Montenegrins won the title in 2012 while the Hungarian lifted the trophy in 2014 in the first eve MVM EHF FINAL 4. Unlike last year, in which they met a total of three times, including the semifinal of the tournament, this will be the first encounter of the season. And we can say a lot has changed for both teams since that last meeting that ended with a 21-20 victory for Györ.

On the team conducted by Ambros Martin, the absence of the Norwegian line player Heidi Løke due to pregnancy is definitely the biggest loss. But her Dutch colleague, Yvette Broch, has worked hard to make it go unnoticed. Broch, which was mostly dedicated to a defensive work, saw herself playing more minutes in attack, and did it in a great fashion. While Løke’s absence came as a surprise for some, it might have been a good thing for Györ to get used to playing without her, as the line player will move to Storhamar Håndball (Norway) at the end of this season.

The other big difference for Györ, compared to last season, is the arrival of the Norwegian ace Nora Mørk. The left handed landed in Hungary shortly after winning the bronze mendal at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro and fulfilled a spot that appeared to be vacant since the departure of Katarina Bulatović two seasons ago. It is no news that Mørk is a deadly weapon in attack, but she has also added more minutes in the defense, something that she doesn’t practice very often with her national team and that she was not used to doing in Larvik either. On her first season with the green and white jersey, Mørk has become the top scorer of the squad with 78 goals away so far, and while she’s 9 goals away from Andrea Penezić’s 87, she has the entire weekend to chase after her.

On the other side, the team conducted by Dragan Adžić has arrived to this final weekend with a recovered image, quite different from the one shown against FTC on the astonishing defeat by 25-33 in Morača Sports Centre in February of this year. The quarter finals against Larvik, that finished with an impressive +19 in the aggregate result, were proof that the Montenegrin champions are quite ready to try and take the trophy back to Podgorica in what might be their last chance, considering the drastic changes in the squad for next season, that include the departures of Cristina Neagu and Dragana Cvijić. But the road wasn’t easy for them. The departure of Majda Mehmedović, the retirement of Radmila Petrović and a plethora of injuries were some of the bumps in the road that they had to overcome to reach the Tippmix EHF Final 4 for the fourth time in a row.

There was another departure that went inadverted for the team from Montenegro. Marina Rajčić moved to Franch champions Metz Handball and her position was covered by a goalkeeper that was leaving the French league. Daryl Zoqbi de Paula arrived in Budućnost all the way from Fleury Loiret Handball and built a wall under the posts. Her duet with Marta Žderić has become one of the best in Europe and there’s no doubt that it was one of the keys to success this season.

But if there was one thing that Budućnost did miss, that was the absence of Milena Raicević. The centre back missed the entire Main Round, but maybe that gave Adžić enough time to try out different variables, knowing that she would most likely miss the rest of the competition. With a team full of youngsters, led by the experience of Cristina Neagu and Katarina Bulatović, the Montenegrin side eventually found their way to Budapest.

But the fact that they have been somewhat irregular during the season does not make them less dangerous, this might actually be a surprise factor during the semifinal. However, it will take a lot of easy manner and focus to break a Hungarian side that looks more ready than ever. As many can agree, this match will be decided mainly through the defenses, whoever is fitter and defends best will surely have the edge on this match; but we cannot forget about the fact that three time IHF World Player of the Year Cristina Neagu will be on court providing for Budućnost’s attack as well. She is the go-to player when things get tough and there’s no doubt that Györ will need to pay attention to her. It will be interesting to see if Mørk will stay oncourt during the defense, considering that she will be direct opponent of the Romanian star. She might even suggest Ambros to stick with her with a much personal mark on her (like she did for some time during the match between Romania and Norway in Rio 2016), to avoid having to face her on a one against one, because once she sets her hands on the ball, Neagu seems unstoppable.

The teams are ready and the world of handball is ready to watch a clash that will determine the first finalist of this season’s WOMEN’S EHF Champions League. The match is set to start at 15:15 (local time) at the Papp László Budapest Sportaréna.

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