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EHF European League

Five hot takes after the EHF Finals Women

EHF / Adrian Costeiu

The first season of the EHF European League Women has ended on a high. The EHF Finals Women 2021 in Romania concluded Sunday after Nantes Atlantique Handball had taken their opponents by storm to win their maiden international trophy.

The French success was a testament of teamwork, great players standing out when needed and some old-fashioned defence kicking in when it was needed the most.

It was the first time in EHF history that the second-tier women’s club competition culminated in a four-team finals tournament.

So, what happened this weekend in Baia Mare? Let’s pinpoint the main moments and facts from two days of superb handball.

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How big of a surprise is Nantes’ run to the title?

To many, CSM Bucuresti downing Györi Audi ATO KC after penalties in the 2016 EHF Champions League final is still the biggest upset in women’s European club handball. But Nantes’ stunning run to the EHF European League title this season comes close.

The French side only just came through qualification – edging SCM Gloria Buzau 44:43 aggregate – but was hard to beat in 2021, dropping just two games.

Superb outings against Kastamonu Belediyesi GSK, HC Lada, and HC Zvezda, followed by a flawless EHF Finals Women, explain why Nantes took everybody by surprise.

“This is our strength. We were together since 2 July, we had many games in a row, the girls never gave up and always smiled. I am a lucky man to coach this team,” Nantes coach Guillaume Saurina said after the final against Siófok KC (36:31).

Nantes scored 72 goals last weekend, but won the trophy mainly thanks to their amazing defence, especially in the first half against Siófok.

EHF Finals: Can it get better than this?

It was an adrenaline-pumped final weekend in the EHF European League Women, a true goal fest, with each team scoring more than 30 goals in all four matches. There were 271 goals in total, an average of 67.75 goals per match, thanks to high-octane attacks performing at the highest level, rendering themselves impossible to stop at times.

Trophy winners Nantes scored 72 times, hosts CS Minaur Baia Mare and Siófok 67 goals each. Surprisingly, the best attack in the competition prior to the final weekend, Herning-Ikast Håndbold, netted 65 times.

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Was Baia Mare’s hosting of the tournament a success?

The current health situation in Romania did not allow fans in the stands, which certainly did not help host side Baia Mara, as their supporters usually flock to cheer for their favourites in crucial games.

In the end, Minaur did not win their first international trophy but finished third, leaving the EHF European League on a high, eyeing more of the same next season.

Teams were happy with the facilities, with their hotel in walking distance to the arena, as highlighted by their officials after the conclusion of the EHF Finals Women.

It was the first time Romania hosted a major European tournament since Ramnicu Valcea and capital Bucharest were venues at the Women’s EHF EURO 2000.

How close did De Paula get to the top scorer award?

While Nantes may have been the attacking juggernaut in the EHF Finals Women, their star, Bruna De Paula, missed the top scorer award this season by only one goal.

The diminutive Brazilian back scored 60 goals in the group phase and in the knock-out part of the EHF European League this season, only one less than Herning’s back Helene Fauske.

The Norwegian back had a season-high 12-goal outing against Vaci NKSE in the group phase and added five goals in each game last weekend.

Nantes right wing Nathalie Hagman became the EHF Finals top scorer, with 18 goals.

De Paula, the MVP of the weekend, finished second, with 14 goals; Baia Mare’s left back Jovana Kovacevic had 13 goals to her name.

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Why did Siófok’s streak end?

Siófok’s season has been next to none, with the Hungarian side never dropping a game until the final.

It was their first lost in European competitions since an EHF Cup 2019/20 game in November 2019 – also against Nantes (34:29).

Of course, Siófok went on to win the EHF Cup that season, but this weekend failed to become only the second Hungarian team after Debrecen to retain the second-tier European trophy.

With several key players leaving the club and others suffering injuries during the season, Siófok still built on their 17-game unbeaten streak, only bettered in European women’s club handball by Györ, who have not lost for 55 matches in the EHF Champions League.

Also, the extra energy needed to get past Herning-Ikast in the second semi-final was no advantage.

“I am very proud of my team, because the last two months have been very difficult,” Siófok coach Zdravko Zovko said. “I know how hard the game against Herning was and we paid the price against Nantes. We lost a little bit of power, a little bit of focus, but Nantes were the best team in this tournament.”

I am very proud of my team, because the last two months have been very difficult. I know how hard the game against Herning was and we paid the price against Nantes. We lost a little bit of power, a little bit of focus, but Nantes were the best team in this tournament.
Zdravko Zovko
Siófok KC head coach

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