Norwegian feast in Pamplona
In a real nail-biting thriller right until the dying seconds, Itxako defeat Larvik by a single goal, but with the aggregate score, the Norwegians were the lucky winners of this marvelous clash and will bring home the EHF CL trophy for the first time in their history.
Itxako Reyno de Navarra (ESP) vs. Larvik HK (NOR) 25:24 (10:11)
First leg: Larvik HK (NOR) vs. Itxako Reyno de Navarra (ESP) 23:21 (8:9)
On aggregate: 47:46 for Larvik HK
Hours before the game, a full house and amazing atmosphere awaited the two finalists in the Pabellón Anaitasuna de Pamplona, which was a sea of yellow as far as the eye could see.
In the early phase the two teams weren’t as careful as in the first-leg match when executing their attacks, as both clubs staged quick attacks which they finished early.
The away side of Larvik made the better start and coach Tor Odvar Moen’s team scored from long distance through Tonje Larsen and Linn Jørum Sulland.
The Norwegians didn’t fear the loud atmosphere in the Pamplona hall and didn’t show their nerves either, as they quickly extended their lead to 4 goals.
As last weekend, coach Ambros Martín’s team used a six-zero defence, but this time it didn´t seem that powerful. Larvik’s game plan worked well and led by Tonje Larsen the away team easily found the holes in the Itxako defence. They either scored from distance or their attacks were stopped and Larvik were awarded 7 m shots which Sulland scored without problems.
Being down by five goals, and by seven on aggregate, Martín was forced to call a time out to implement some new plans.
Larvik have worked hard on their defence since last weekend, it stood rock solid during the first half. It was very tough for Itxako’s attackers to find their way to Cecilie Leganger’s goal.
The home side had to take a risk and changed its system to remain in game. Martín brought in Nerea Pena at left-back and Alexandrina Barbosa marked Tonje Larsen during Larvik’s attacks.
Itxako found themselves four goals down and their coach brought into play the famous five-one and four-two defences that worked so well during the entire season. This new way of defending greatly disturbed the Norwegian attacks and several errors crept into the so-far well-working Norwegian machine.
Once Itxako’s players realised the mistakes of their opponent, they punished every error of the Scandinavians and closed the gap to just one goal at half-time. The match was open again!
Despite a quick equalizer, Larvik believed in victory and continued in an impressive manner, building the lead to three goals again.
Pushed by their enthusiastic and loyal supporters, Itxako again opted for an open defence with man-marking for both Gro Hammerseng and Tonje Larsen.
This again had a detrimental effect on their own game, but it disturbed Larvik’s offensive game well.
A great fight developed with both teams going all out and fighting in every situation and for every ball. It was everything a final should be, and gave great excitement to handball fans worldwide, as well as the spectators in the hall.
Both coaches presented their tactical best on court and 5 minutes before the end Itxako came as close as one goal. As the spectators raised their volume again, Alexandrina Barbosa made the equalizer, and the whole hall went crazy.
But with two quick goals by Kari Mette Johansen, the first in the game after a Larvik counter attack, the Norwegians went into the lead again.
The Spaniards however showed big heart, fighting spirit again and proved their classy style and turned the game. With two minutes to go they were in lead again and this forced Tor Odvar Moen to put his green card on the table.
The Norwegians cleverly kept the ball and with the one goal defeat they celebrated their biggest club success, the EHF Champions League victory.
TEXT: Márk Hegedüs