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15.10.2015, 12:20
Newbies aiming for FINAL4
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FIRST-HAND INSIGHT: How can a team that was formed seven years ago realistically challenge for a place in this season’s Women’s EHF FINAL4?
 

Newbies aiming for FINAL4

It could be a coincidence that the biggest city in this year’s Women’s EHF Champions League is a fresh face in Europe’s premium competition.

However, this neophyte is aiming to become a powerhouse and lay down a blueprint for success for the next few years.

But the path to glory is not as easy as it may seem at a first glance.

Created in 2007, now seeking a FINAL4 berth

Losing Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea to bankruptcy in 2013 was shaping up to be the swan song for the women’s handball in Romania.

But the Romanians took a page from ancient Greek mythology.

Cut one head of Hydra and several will pop back up.

And this was the case with HCM Baia Mare and CSM Bucuresti, Romania’s last two champions.

While both teams are backed by the local communities, Baia Mare was born ready to implement their plan immediately after Oltchim’s demise, with Bucharest taking their time.

But the latter seems readier than ever to emulate the former finalist’s achievements in the Women’s EHF Champions League.

“Our objective is to reach the FINAL4.

“It may seem like a far-fetched theory, but it would be amazing for a team that was created in 2007 and made its debut in the Romanian first league in 2010,” said Constantin Caliman CSM’s president since 2013.

One-hit wonder?

The club’s plan was clear: women’s handball is the second most popular sport in Romania after football and that’s where CSM – which also boasts rugby, volleyball, basketball and athletics teams – needed to grow.

Like pieces of a puzzle, everything fell in place one way or another.

After the setback of finishing seventh in the Romanian League in 2014, CSM could not play in the European-cup competitions; the team was ready for the first big step.

World champions Mayssa Pessoa, Fernanda Franca da Silva, Ana Paula Rodrigues and Deonise Cavaleiro were brought in to create what was already branded “the next big thing”.


Russian pivot Ekaterina Vetkova and Spanish right wing Carmen Martin were the next to come.

But the most important transfer was Linnea Torstenson.

The former MVP of the EHF EURO 2010 brought stability in defense, while her leadership qualities were immensely valuable in the run-in to the most important performance in the team’s history.

“We have to admit that it is very hard to build a team that is ready to compete for European glory.

“A FINAL4 berth will not come magically, we need to work hard and be patient.

“A team is not build overnight,” admitted Torstenson after several months in Bucharest.

But sooner, rather than later, CSM became a powerhouse in the Romanian League.

Surely enough, after the most exciting season in the League’s recent history, CSM Bucuresti was crowned champion, winning both games against HCM Baia Mare in the final, 23:22 and 20:17.

When Romanian handball meets Danish

After a samba-themed season, CSM was ready to take a Nordic approach for their maiden journey in the Women’s EHF Champions League.

EHF EURO 2014’s all-star left wing Maria Fisker joined from Viborg, as well as Isabelle Gullden, last year’s tournament top scorer.

Right back Line Jorgensen was also persuaded to sign.

The team’s ascent can also be tied with the Danish school of handball.

First, Jakob Vestergaard was hired as a technical director, but the plans of naming him as first-team coached collapsed when the Dane was approached by the German federation, and, subsequently, named as the women’s team national coach.

His former assistant Mette Klit took over, but after a year and a half with only three defeats in the last season - all of them against HCM Baia Mare - Klit left by mutual consent.

“We also have a Danish coach, Kim Rasmussen and a Danish assistant, Rasmus Rygaard Poulsen”, said Constantin Caliman.

As Poulsen will supervise the team’s academy, another Danish coach, Kasper Jensen, will lead the under 18 team this year.

“Romanian handball has produced a lot of great talents over the years.

“Just like Danish players have been some of the best of the last 20 years.”

“I think it would be great to combine the two schools of handball. It can only help to develop our young players and achieve our objectives,” continued Caliman.

“One of the biggest academies in Europe”

But the critics fail to see the globalization of the project as a good sign.

CSM has only 9 Romanians in their roster of 20 registered players for this year’s Women’s EHF Champions League, while Baia Mare has only 5 foreign players in their 19-player roster.

“I think it is impossible for a Romanian team to compete for the title with a Romanian majority.

“But our plan is to create a roster of Romanian players who are able to achieve greatness.”

Caliman’s vision can be branded as a laughing stock right now, but the Bucharest paradox never ceases to amaze.

The team has one of the biggest handball academies in Europe, with over 2000 players in their ranks.

“The team is only a platform for our academy. We are aiming to create great handball players in the future and I hope we will see them in our ranks by 2017,” added the team’s president.

Hoping for a sold-out arena

However, Bucharest lacks one of the most important elements of a true powerhouse in the Champions League: a huge home crowd.

Travelling teams who go to Györ, Podgorica or even Larvik can barely understand each other on the court.
Die-hard fans could make a huge difference, just ask Oltchim’s players who collapsed in the last 10 minutes of the semi-final second leg against Györ three years ago.

But Bucharest fails to bring that to the table.

The city is too consumed with football, but the team’s staff hopes that the status-quo will change.

“We have experienced a large number of fans at the Bucharest Trophy and I hope that the fan base will grow even further with our involvement in the Champions League.”

“I know we will not sell out the hall against Lublin, at our maiden game, but I hope the arena will be full at the game against Buducnost - our most important match in this group.”
 
“Of course, this is our first season, but I am confident that we will convince the public we deserve a full arena,” concluded Caliman.

Convincing 5.000 fans to come to see a handball game on a (possibly) rainy Friday autumn afternoon in hectic traffic conditions will surely be one of CSM’s biggest challenges in their history, but could make up for an interesting dish.

The first ingredient – a stellar team – is already in place.

Let’s see what the season will bring for the paradox of this year’s Women’s EHF Champions League…

Adrian Costeiu

Born and bred in Ramnicu Valcea, Adrian Costeiu has been an Oltchim and handball fan for as long as he can remember.

Former editor at the biggest premium sport website in Romania (ProSport), he now works as a reporter for the biggest television (ProTV).

He has been the EHF’s Romanian correspondent for six years and hopes he will live the day when a Romanian team will win a title.


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / bc
 
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