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08.05.2015, 16:00
Larvik dismiss the pressure in Gjekstad’s farewell season
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SEMI-FINAL1 PREVIEW: The two newcomers of the FINAL4 face each other in the Papp Laszlo Sportarena in the first semi-final game.

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Larvik dismiss the pressure in Gjekstad’s farewell season

With history and experience on their side, Larvik cannot evade the role of favourites. But looking at their semi-final rival’s performances throughout the season, including an eight-goal win against the powerful WHC Vardar SCBT (33:25), it will be anything but a mere stroll to the final when the Norwegians meet Dinamo-Sinara in the MVM EHF FINAL4 semi-final.

“I have great respect for Dinamo Sinara. We’ve played many good matches against Dinamo in history, but whether we are favourites or not does not matter to us. We know that we have to be the better team to win the semi-final,” said Larvik coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad.

Three-time finalists Larvik, will have seven players that won the elusive trophy in 2011 currently in the team, which might just prove to be the decisive difference, according to current top scorer, Nora Mork.

“Of course, they probably don’t have as much experience as we do, and we may be able to benefit from that, but we will definitely have to take that task very, very seriously,” she said.

Back with a shout

The 2011 winners are back among the four best teams after missing out on the final showdown last term. The Norwegian team has had a turbulent season, following financial difficulties that threatened to jeopardise their goal of reaching the MVM EHF FINAL4.

Regardless, their performances did not falter, as the star-laden team are currently on a 18-game winning streak in Europe.

“It means a lot to us (to be at the MVM EHF FINAL4), especially considering that we didn’t make it last year. Everything has been aimed at qualifying for Budapest,” said Mork.

Mork has been nothing short of amazing in her team’s campaign to the MVM EHF FINAL4 recording 84 goals in her seventh Champions League season. Her 12-goal masterclass against Thüringer which edged the quarter-final tie, was just a preview of what the prolific right back is capable of before she takes on the court in Budapest.

Coach to bid farewell in Budapest

Regardless of whether Larvik reach the final or not, the match on Sunday will be a testimonial for their long serving coach (from 1998 to 2005, and from 2011 to 2015), who has decided to say farewell to handball after 11 seasons in total with the club. This may provide additional motivation for Larvik players to win the coveted trophy for the second time in history.

“To end in style with Larvik would mean a lot to me. The dream is to lift the Champions League trophy on Sunday 10 May. That would be a fantastic ending,” Gjekstad said.

Giant-killing in mind

The Russian team has proven to have the quality to upset the odds. Their home win (33:25) against Vardar is a clear statement of intent, underlined by an epic quarter-final comeback against Baia Mare, after a narrow defeat in the first leg.

“We showed our result was no fluke in the quarter-finals against Baia Mare – a team with a number of great players. That victory brought us to Budapest,” said Dinamo-Sinara right wing Anita Gace in her blog for ehfCL.com

This is the best result for the Russian side since 2000, when they played in the semi-finals. With Norwegian powerhouse Larvik clearly the bigger name in this matchup, the hard working Russian side will however relish the role of outsiders, playing without any pressure.

“The public don’t consider us favorites and maybe we can use this as an advantage to cause a surprise. We’ve shown that we can compete with anyone, and hopefully we will do the same in Budapest.“

Nurturing a hard working dynamic defence and efficient counter attack, led by prolific right back Anna Kochetova, Dinamo definitely have the game to upset the likes of Larvik. Over the course of 60 minutes with no room for mistakes or complacency - It will be interesting to see whether the Russian side can repeat their giantkilling performances in Budapest, more than 2,000 kilometres away from home.


TEXT: Nemanja Savic / br
 
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