|01.02.2017, 17:25||◄ last page|
AROUND THE WORLD: Five clubs with Dutch players in their squads started in the Women’s EHF Champions League this season, and all five made it through to the main round. These players hope their top-level experience will further boost handball in the Netherlands.
Dutch dynamite in the Women's EHF Champions League
Even though Dutch champions Sercodak Dalfsen failed to qualify for the competition, seven Dutch players have been appearing in the Women’s EHF Champions League this season.
Competing for clubs in Denmark (Team Esbjerg), France (Metz Handball), Germany (Thüringer HC) and Hungary (FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and Györi Audi ETO KC), all seven have advanced from the group matches.
However, only six of them are actually playing in the main round, which started last weekend.
Team Esbjerg left back Estavana Polman, who was instrumental to the Danish team’s successful European top flight debut, announced her pregnancy and ended her season shortly after helping the Netherlands win silver at EHF EURO 2016.
After three years in Denmark and enjoying some EHF Cup and Cup Winners’ Cup experience, the 24-year-old Polman put aside offers from several regular Champions League clubs last year.
“I thought, ‘I will kill myself if we are going to be champions and qualify for the Champions League and I am not there anymore’,” Polman said at the start of the season. “So I had to take that risk and go for it. I am really happy that I chose to stay in Esbjerg. It’s an amazing club.”
Polman scored 30 goals as Team Esbjerg finished third in Group D, and she was voted the competition's Rookie of 2016.
Without Polman, Team Esbjerg still have some Dutch firepower on court. Laura van der Heijden had a cracking start to the season as she scored a total of 20 goals in her first two Champions League matches, earning the 27-year-old right back the title of EHF Player of the Month in October.
Polman and Van der Heijden are also key players for the Dutch national team, but two other Champions League players from the Netherlands are not: Jurswailly Luciano and Anouk van de Wiel.
The 25-year-old Luciano, who is in her sixth year with Metz, retired from the national team after the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. The Curacao-born right wing is in her fourth Champions League season, and with 23 goals so far, on her way to a personal best after scoring 29 goals for the French side in the 2014/15 season.
Thüringenr HC right back Van de Wiel also was no part of the Dutch EHF EURO squad in December.
The 24-year-old Van de Wiel has been playing in Germany since 2012. After stints with Dortmund and Göppingen, she joined compatriot Danick Snelder at Thüringen last season. The Dutch duo helped the club win their sixth successive national title.
While Snelder has moved to Hungary after six seasons in the Bundesliga, Van de Wiel has already improved on last year’s performance with Thüringen, when the German club ended the main round with just one single point.
With her new club FTC, line player Snelder is facing Van de Wiel and Thüringen in Group 1 of the main round on Saturday.
“I wanted to move on to a new level in the Champions League. I have a huge desire to get to the FINAL4,” Snelder said about her transfer.
The 26-year-old Snelder, who is the captain of the national team, has been used to facing fellow Dutch players. She competed against Metz's Luciano last week, and she meets two more compatriots in the Hungarian league - Györ’s Nycke Groot and Yvette Broch.
Centre back Groot previously appeared in the Champions League with FC Midtjylland but moved from the Danish club last season.
“In the beginning it was hard to find my place in the team and to show my qualities, but it went better after the World Championship in 2015,” the 28-year-old Groot said.
In her first year with Gyor, Groot scored 54 times to lead the club all the way to final, where they suffered a heartbreaking loss to CSM Bucuresti.
“It is an incredible honour to play with these girls and I feel that we are playing even better as a team this year,” Groot said.
Last season Györ also signed line player Broch, who is in her fourth straight Champions League season after two years with Metz. Broch, who is 26 years old, scored 26 times in her first year with the Hungarian champions, and is currently on 22 goals.
According to Groot, it is a benefit to have a compatriot on your team when playing abroad.
“I am very glad that Yvette is also here,” Groot said. “We helped each other a lot last year as we were in a similar situation. We support each other if needed and we have a lot of fun together.”
Their Champions League adventures will give handball back home in the Netherlands a further boost.
“We play so many matches in the Champions League, under high pressure, against strong opponents where you can’t get sloppy. As a player you learn a lot from that,” Groot said. “I think we can bring this experience with us to the national team.”
Being surrounded every day by the world’s best players is also a stimulation for a top player like Groot to keep improving.
“When I see how much and how hard Heidi Løke is training, that is a huge motivation for me,” said Groot, who was the MVP at EHF EURO 2016. “I hope I can bring the same motivation to the Dutch national team.”
TEXT: Eric Willemsen / cor