The EHF Final 4 had both a fairy tale and a tragic ending last Sunday. Győri Audi ETO KC defeated HC Vardar 27-26 in overtime. Just like in last year’s final. A one goal difference in overtime. Both extreme joy and extreme sadness mixed on the court of the Papp László Sportaréna after the 70 minutes of play. A game that will certainly be remembered for its high level and emotional content, from both sides. The end of HC Vardar as we know it, with of all its international stars; and the end of an era for Ambros Martín behind the steering wheel of Europe’s most winning team in the last decade.
The mixed zone is the place to be right after the match. Not only you get to hear firsthand from the players and coaches, but you also get to see their reactions when the spotlights have dimmed a little. So on this written version of a #throwbackThursday, I’ll take you to a trip down ‘memory lane’ to have an insight of the emotions of the champions right after having obtained the club’s fourth Champions League title.
First time’s a charm for debutants Hansen and Oftedal.
The Scandinavians made their debut in the EHF Champions League and lifted their first trophy, something both of them said had dreamt of doing. Danish left back Anne Mette Hansen, expressed it this way in the mixed zone after the final: “I’m a little tired right now and my voice is already broken (laughs), but oh my God, this feeling is oh (looks up)…this is why you so work so much every day, on the field and on the gym, this is amazing. I wanted to win the Champions League, and now I’m a champion; this is so amazing. This team, I can only be proud, we have had so many ups and downs this season, with so many injuries, including myself, but we just kept on working and I’m so proud. We knew we had to have a really good defense and do our thing, we had some luck in the end and then Eva came in and save that ball, and it was amazing”.
The Norwegian national team captain may have had a first taste of an EHF Final 4, but she sure knows what is like to play big, big matches. At her young 26 years of age she’s already been three times European champion, two times World Champion and Olympic medallist. She had already mentioned during the Media Call last Friday that she was feeling a good mix of emotions. All of them flourished right after the match when she was asked if this event was one of the reasons why she had moved from Paris Issy to the Hungarian powerhouse: “Yes, I did. I did for sure. To play the Champions League, to play a Final 4, and we managed to do what we wanted to, and I must say I’m so proud to be a part of this. We had a really good way of taking one thing at the time and we’ve been actually calmer than I would expect in this kind of situation. I feel we struggled a little to find a good rhythm in attack and we had some clear chances that we missed, so we stressed a little bit about that, still we managed to play good in defense and turn it around”.
-HP: Looking back in time, did you imagine this present?
-Oftedal: (while holding the rose a fan had given her) “I did imagine this present, you know? It was far away, but I always had the hope that I would be a part of something this big. I pretty much pictured it the way it is now, especially now that we ended up winning it, it’s really something special. And with the Champions League you go all the year, and we had some ups and downs and injuries, but we work all the way for this and now we’ve made it!”.
Two EHFCL titles are better than one.
She was the top scorer of the evening. With 8 goals on the scoresheet, Nycke Groot was the silent but providential player in the final. With a Dutch flag wrapped around her waist and a smile that would not erase for hours, the brilliant playmaker tried to find the words to explain her state of mind: “This feeling is amazing. I cannot describe how proud I am of this team, how tough of a year we’ve had with all the injuries, and to finish this with a gold medal is just amazing. Our defense was incredibly strong, we’ve had some problems in attack, they’re also good players and strong in defense; Leynaud played very well this weekend and so I’m very happy that she’s joining us next season (laughs). It was a tough game, it was the final, so you would expect that”.
Compared with last year’s final, she had a hard time trying to find the differences. After all, it was also a one-goal difference result, in overtime, against the same rival. “I think we got a little bit more excited in the end with that save of Eva. I don’t know, maybe we took the experience from last year and the believe in each other helped us through the last ten minutes; the trust in this team is incredibly big. Like I said, we did it last year, and maybe they had some scars from that last final or maybe they were a little bit more afraid, I don’t know if that was the difference, but we kept our heads cool”.
At one point, after having spoken with nearly every TV network, newspaper and website, and possibly replying to the same questions over and over again, Groot bent down and put her hands on her knees, taking long breaths. “I want to eat, I want to sit, I want to shower”, she said in an afflicted way, but with a smile on her face. And when the last question came in, she stood up and sighed with teary eyes: “I dreamed of winning the Champions League a lot of times, but…I never thought it could happen two times in a row, this is amazing, all the hard work was worth it”.
“I think I f*#king deserve it”.
“Today was tough, you always want to help. And today I saw some opportunities that I could’ve done something about if I was on the field (looking at the distance, maybe recalling certain plays), but I just tried to give as much energy as I could to the team and help with small tactical things. I’m so proud of the team and that we beat Vardar, it’s just amazing. Today I really wanted to play, it was…(breathes heavily, looks at the ceiling with her hands on her waist), it was hard to see it from the bench. But the way we won, the way the team works, the feeling we have in the team, it’s like we’re a family and we fight for each other and everybody puts the team first; so then for me it doesn’t matter if I play one minute or sixty. Right know of course it’s emotional that I don’t play, Ambros will leave and that’s also special…so it was tough today, but we won”. A visibly touched Nora Mørk did not hide her desperation for not having been able to step on court. Her eyes still red from the crying, and maybe even some of the champagne spilled on the podium.
Hers was one of the many injuries that Győr had to bear with during the season and it came in a delicate moment for the Norwegian superstar. “Last year was the worst year of my life (stares at the floor with a sad look), so I think I f*#king deserve it…and to finish the tournament this way, ok, I didn’t play, I’m injured, but this gives me a lot of strength and a lot of motivation for the next season and I want to be part of this team more than anything, that’s why I also want to play for Győr, because you cannot get this feeling anywhere else, I’m pretty sure about that”, confessed Mørk, who obtained her third Champions League title, following last year’s success in Budapest and the 2010/11 title with Larvik HK.
Poker for Győr’s most beloved Brazilian.
There was certainly a louder cheering when her name was announced on the Papp László Sportaréna last weekend. Along with team captain Anita Görbicz, Brazilian left back Eduarda Amorim is the player who’s been in the team the longest. Nearly a decade of continuous improvement and tireless dedication made her an icon for the team, and her charisma and unmistakable charm are definitely an extra for what she delivers on court. Possibly one of the only players that manages to smile during the entire 60 minutes of such a crucial match. When asked in the press conference room what she had drunk in the last ten minutes of the match, Eduarda Amorim joked everyone: “Special water”. ‘Duda’ scored a total of 6 goals during the final, which include the opening and closing goals of the regular time, and four decisive in an impressive overtime (and the last goal of OT as well).
After having answered questions in English, Hungarian, Macedonian and Portuguese, she still had a smile on her face to stop for photos while in the press conference room. And once she was done, she stopped by with an accomplice smile.
-HP: You’ve been in this club for 9 years now and…
-Eduarda Amorim: (interrupting) “and I have 4 Champions League titles already! You never get tired of it, winning is never boring”.
-HP: It was hard for you here when you arrived, it was a new team and no one would speak to you, did you ever imagine this present back then?
-Eduarda Amorim: “Believe me, I didn’t (laughing). When I arrived here the one thing I really wanted to do was to evolve as an athlete, that was my first goal. But then you start to understand the dynamics of the Champions League, and you become more professional, but I did not imagine this at first. As the years went by, of course I did”.
-HP: But you dreamed of it, didn’t you?
Eduarda Amorim: “I always dream. I think that the first dream is to become the World’s best and along with it comes the dream to win all the titles. But for example, when I first arrived, the club had lost a final and I did not exactly understand the greatness of it all, but when I played the tournament for the first time, and we lost in the semifinals, I understood it better. So of course, when we won the first one, it was very special and it became a dream. Now the dream is bigger every time. This one is special because of the departure of Ambros, but also because it was a very challenging season and we’ve had lots of ups and downs”.
-HP: Last year you said you’d play for three more seasons, would you re think that and maybe play a little bit longer?
Eduarda Amorim: “I don’t think so. I always give my best so I have one more season in Győr, and maybe I play one last one somewhere else, or just finish next season…I think that’ll be enough. I’ve already played many seasons and the Champions League and for example this one was very challenging; will we have another one like this? I don’t want to finish being tired of this, I want to finish at the top”.
It is uncertain whether next Champions League season will be as challenging as the one that’s just finished. What’s quite likely is that the Hungarian squad will try to go all the way and make Duda’s and the rest of the team’s dream come true again: “Now I want another one!”.