Women's EHF FINAL4 teams under the microscope
We are literally counting down the days until the Women’s EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, where this amazing season will get a fitting finale this weekend.
On Saturday, the semi-finals Györ vs CSM at 15:15 hrs (live on ehfTV.com) and Rostov vs Vardar at 18:00 hrs (live on ehfTV.com) will be played, folowed by the 3/4 placement match and the final on Sunday.
We have observed, analysed, and discussed all four participants to bring you a little bit closer to their state of preparation ahead of the deciding duels.
For each team we have set three categories – Strength, Weakness and the X-factor. Each category represents our outlook on the team, and how it affects their chances in the Papp László Budapest Sportaréna. Some will be obvious, some a little less, and there are even a few surprises.
Strength: The back-court trio
The biggest forte of the Romanian powerhouse is fairly obvious - the cooperation between Cristina Neagu and Bella Gulldén is the bare essence of CSM, and when everything works well. With their diverse assignments, Neagu, takes the role of a ruthless finisher, while Gulldén is the composed organiser. With the two in sync, complementing each other, CSM’s back-court three play in a real harmony, as evident in their joint contribution of more than 60 per cent of the team’s 212 goals scored this season.
The Romanians falter is on the defensive end. Their attacking prowess simply cannot make up for the lack of defensive focus. Too much reliance on Neagu to carry the team in both attacking and defensive phases puts too much stress on the Romanian star and eventually affects her performance. The gung-ho approach might have worked favourably in the past, but, arriving at the Women’s EHF FINAL4 with the worst defensive record from all four participants is an alarming sign.
X-factor: Per Johansson
The Swedish tactician has been like a breath of fresh air since taking over. The team not only responded well to his tactical tweaks, but to his motivational skills as well. Johansson’s comeback was the only real answer to CSM’s stagnating game, and he has indeed transformed the side into a contender again. Meanwhile, the Swede has a big surprise factor by his side, and knowing how to successfully manage and bring the best out of such a huge amount of stars is definitely a game changer CSM would need in Budapest.
Györi Audi ETO KC
Strength: Using defence to create goals
The statement: attack wins matches, but defence wins championships, never goes out of style, and Györ have really built their game around the tough and disciplined defence. The very approach has arguably brought the Hungarian powerhouse to their fourth Women’s EHF FINAL4. Boasting the best defence in the competition, even in times of injury crisis, while ranking among the most effective sides on the attacking end, the three-time champions are a prime example of how to convert defence into goals.
At one point it seemed like there is no cure for Györ’s injury troubles, but the Hungarian side have always managed to find a way through. As much as the team looks steady and consistent at this point, Györ will undoubtedly miss the likes of Nora Mørk and Zsuzsana Tomori when that extra quality is needed at the Women’s EHF FINAL4. Moreover, the fitness of Anja Althaus and Eduarda Amorim might still not be at the highest level.
Another saying in handball goes: simple is always better. It is especially true in case of Györ. The system is already implemented, the fundaments established and the players are brought in to fit the plan. But for a plan to be effective, even at the highest level, it must be easy to understand. Then the individual quality shines through, tasks are clear and the tactical tweaks are easy to make when needed, especially in crunch time. Simply, everything is much more effective. But for simplicity to work in your favour takes time, it is after all, what make Györ a great team.
It gets strangely overlooked at how effective and consistent Rostov have become in executing their game plan. The debutants come to the Women’s EHF FINAL4 on the wings of arguably the best form in the competition, now boasting nine matches without defeat. With their form and distinct playing character, sky is the limit for the Russian team, but only if they can keep the focus and intensity as well as their feet firmly on the ground throughout the two days in Budapest.
As much as the key to their form is in their playing style, the debutants’ frugal approach can be their biggest obstacle. Often struggling to put away shots and capitalise on their defence, Rostov seem more comfortable playing a well thought-out game, with a tendency to be caught off-pace if their initial plan does not go their way offensively.
X-factor: The outsider label
The in-form Russian side travel to Budapest as the outsiders, which could in fact turn into their biggest advantage (just ask CSM). Just how much quality Rostov bring to the Women’s EHF FINAL4 is evident in their nine-match unbeaten streak, while the fear factor is lessened by the fact Rostov have played and won against both CSM and Györ, while facing Vardar, the Russians simply have nothing to lose.
Strength: The Lekic-Cvijic axis
Playing against Vardar, more than a few teams have left the court not knowing exactly what hit them. However, as much as the spread-out team scoring effort is impressive, the Women’s EHF FINAL4 would be a different occasion. Vardar would need their Andrea Lekic-Dragana Cvijic axis to shine brighter than ever before. Why? They are both in their prime, they have both been there and done it, they know each other through and through. Their nature, playing positions and roles demand it.
It is, in fact, harder to tell what does not work well for the Macedonian side this season than what does. Vardar’s record is truly admirable, but how many times in the past have they done so well, up until the very end? There is a reason Vardar have never won the Women’s EHF FINAL4, and addressing drops of focus due to complacency is the only way for that to change.
X-factor: The farewell
When the going gets rough, even the best teams will need an extra incentive to push through. Vardar come to the Women’s EHF FINAL4 with plenty of emotions, playing their final season together, with a final chance to win the coveted trophy. The very fact can ignite the X-factor in all of them, for the tears that are bound to be cried at the Papp László arena be the tears of joy.