“We all dreamed of a weekend like this”

MAL7445 V
EHF / Björn Pazen

The EHF European League Men 2021/22 has ended with a bang. The exhilarating 40:39 win of SL Benfica against defending champions SC Magdeburg in Lisbon on Sunday night marked the first time that a final at a season-ending EHF Finals had to be decided in extra time.

And the trophy was not the only reward for Benfica after a truly memorable weekend at Altice Arena, as two of their players received individual awards.

Goalkeeper Sergey Hernandez was named Most Valuable Player; left back Petar Djordjic shared the top scorer title with RK Nexe’s Halil Jaganjac, after both finished on 108 goals since the start of the group phase.

“If someone had told me on Friday that we win the trophy and I become the MVP, I would have said nothing… This is simply unbelievable, I have no words,” Hernandez said.

“We all have dreamed of a weekend like this after such a long season. It was our objective to go all the way to the EHF Finals, and once we were here, we knew everything could happen. It is all about two matches, and every team had the same chances to win.”

While the medal ceremony was well and truly over for half an hour, Hernandez still was full of adrenaline.

“This was by far the craziest match ever in my whole life. The way we finished the regular playing time with the goal of Alexis Borges, then the extra time, everything was crazy and amazing,” the goalkeeper said.

“We never expected this, but we have to say thank you to our incredible fans.”

While the MVP title is an individual prize, Hernandez was quick to share the award with his teammates.

“It was the team performance, not mine,” he said. “We are 18 players, everybody has his role and responsibility. We are a team, a family, we all work together, so this MVP award is for the team, of course. We all do the job together. We all deserve my trophy and the winners’ trophy, all together!”

For Benfica coach Chema Rodriguez it was obvious that “you can win a final tournament only with an extraordinary goalkeeper performance. Sergey saved a lot of shots, he woke us up in crucial moments, and together with Gustavo Capdeville they are one of the best goalkeeper duos of this competition. We can be proud of them, but as Sergey said: it is always teamwork. The defence helped him very much to perform like this.”

While Djordjic is the man to score goals for Benfica, the Serbian left back also acknowledged the performance of Hernandez, the man to avoid goals against Benfica.

“Sergey played an incredible season and has helped us a lot. But to be honest, I expected matches like there from him, as I know what great goalkeeper talent he is.”

Djordjic netted nine times in the final to raise his tally for the season – counted from the start of the group phase – to 108 goals, exactly the same number Jaganjac had finished on just hours earlier when Nexe lost the third place match to Orlen Wisla Plock (27:22).

“Of course, I am very proud to be top scorer of this competition,” said Jaganjac after his last match for Nexe, as he joins Rhein-Neckar Löwen this summer.

“But if I could swap this award for a place in the final, or at least the third place and a victory with my team, I would be happier.”

Just like Hernandez, Jaganjac sees his individual award as an award for the entire team.

“Without the support of my teammates and the trust from the coaches and the staff, all those goals would not have been possible,” the Croatian left back. “And I was happy that I could play the season without major injuries.”

Photos © Uros Hocevar & Saša Pahič Szabó | kolektiff

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