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EHF Champions League

The Romanian “Clasico”

EHF / Adrian Costeiu

When arch-rivals meet in Spain, the game is dubbed “El Clasico” — a classic for both the fans to enjoy and where the players draw extra motivation. This week’s “El Clasico” will not be played in Spain but in Ramnicu Valcea — a town that was the epicentre of women’s handball in Romania for nearly 30 years.

Between 2014 and 2019, the self-made Romanian capital of handball did not have a team in the DELO EHF Champions League, but SCM came back roaring as they aimed to return to the spotlight.

They did that, winning the Romanian league after pipping CSM Bucuresti in 2019. Now, the rivalry from the domestic league and Cups is moving into the premium European competition.

The double header between Valcea and CSM has all the makings of an “El Clasico”, especially as Valcea boast three Spanish players, while CSM have experienced right wing Carmen Martin.

One of those three knows Martin better than anyone. Marta Lopez, a silver medallist with Spain at the IHF Women’s World Championship in 2019, where she deputised the injured Martin for the ‘Guerreras’. Lopez has been one of the main reasons behind SCM’s resurgence.

A warrior on the court, with a steady hand and a powerful shot in attack and a nuisance for opponents in defence, Lopez has donned Valcea’s shirt for the past four seasons and became an instant fan-favourite.

Now, she hopes to write another page of history in the first-ever all-Romanian clash in the DELO EHF Champions League.

eurohandball.com: You played in Spain before coming to Valcea. What did you know about the team, the town and the handball?

Marta Lopez: When I decided to come to play for SCM, I did not have even the slightest idea about what I was going to find there. Of course, I knew about the tradition — the great team of Oltchim with Spanish players like Silvia Navarro and Alexandrina Cabral. I knew I needed to join a big project, this looked like the right decision.

eurohandball.com: You have now played for Valcea for four years. Does that mean the decision was the correct one?

Marta Lopez: It was a big surprise, but in a good way, because everything was good and I am very happy to play here, for this team and in this country. The Romanian league is very competitive, very strong, with good teams, therefore, from a handball point of view, it was the best decision for me to develop and grow as a person and as a player.

eurohandball.com: Centre back Alicia Fraga Fernandez arrived at Valcea at the same time as you, while Mireya Gonzalez came a year later. Did that help you settle in?

Marta Lopez: Having Alicia join me in 2017 was a very good move for both of us, because we adapted very good. I felt I had somebody to rely on in difficult moments and it also helped me get better on the court. Mireya came one year later. We were already feeling good — we had a good chemistry, a good understanding of the league, but she also helped a lot. Having teammates who speak the same language is very important.

eurohandball.com: What surprised you the most in Romania?

Marta Lopez: The passion for handball; especially for women’s handball. Handball is lived here at its fullest. There are a lot of feelings, but all clubs have great fans, which is superb for the sport. I was really surprised by how handball is almost a religion here.

eurohandball.com: What do you think you owe Valcea after four years?

Marta Lopez: I think I grew a lot, both as a player and as a person. The previous years were not the best for me, but this change made me find the strength and energy to be back at the highest level. The thing I will never forget is how the fans cheer for us. It is something magical. You have to live it to really feel it.

“A rival, but a friend”

eurohandball.com: Unfortunately, you will not count on the fans in the game against CSM. How do you think the match will unfold?

Marta Lopez: This will be a fight – in a good way. An emotional game, full of motivation for both sides. We know these games are important in Romania, but this double header will be even more important, because it is played in a knockout round. For my part, I hope that these games will showcase the best of both teams.

eurohandball.com: Which team is the favourite to proceed to the quarter-finals?

Marta Lopez: I think CSM are a slight favourite, because of their European experience and because they won against us, 27:22, in the domestic league two weeks ago. But we will do everything on the court to prove this wrong.

eurohandball.com: Are these the most important games for Valcea this season?

Marta Lopez: These games are important for our club. The objective was to proceed from the group phase, irrespective of which team we will meet in the next phase of the competition. Progressing to the quarter-finals would be a prize for all of us and I think we can do it if we work hard and are truly a team.

eurohandball.com: Can this be dubbed as the Romanian “Clasico”?

Marta Lopez: Without a shadow of the doubt, this will be the “El Clasico” in women’s handball for Romania. Everyone expects these two games and I think it is the same feeling for the players.

eurohandball.com: Carmen Martin, your teammate from the Spanish national team, will be your opponent. Are you happy to meet her?

Marta Lopez: It is amazing to play against her. We are good friends and we are happy to see each other a little more, playing in another country. I like to play against the best — Carmen is one of the best, so it will be a very nice feeling. When the games are over, we can just sit together a bit, enjoy what we achieved and celebrate our friendship. She will be a rival on Saturday, but most of all, she is a friend.

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