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28.09.2018, 09:00
A new set of ambitions for bolstered CSM
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WOMEN’S EHF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE COUNTDOWN: CSM Bucuresti (ROU). It was another tumultuous summer for CSM, who replaced their coach and added some Balkan spice to their team. But with some big-name new arrivals, the Romanian powerhouse maintain their lofty goals
 

A new set of ambitions for bolstered CSM

There has been a recurrent scenario for CSM Bucuresti in the past two seasons: Twice the Romanian powerhouse started the year with huge ambitions and one coach directing the team, twice they have finished in Budapest with Per Johansson leading the charge. However, the Romanian champions have not been able to replicate the successful first season when they won the title as debutants, producing one of the biggest surprises in the history of the Women’s EHF Champions League.

The Romanian outfit are never known as a boring one, as anything can happen at any given moment. That has also been the case in this summer, when five integral players left the team as a four-player legion arrived from Vardar. But the chemistry is nowhere to be seen as yet, with huge mishaps in the early stages of what needs to be a successful campaign for the Romanian side.

Three questions before the new season:
How will CSM look with their new arrivals?


Andrea Lekic is a player any team wants on its side, while Dragana Cvijic already had a blooming partnership with Cristina Neagu in Buducnost, becoming a devastating duo in attack. Jovanka Radicevic will add experience, and Barbara Lazovic can be useful in defence. Young back Elizabeth Omoregie will be the joker, as she already showed flashes of brilliance in the first part of the pre-season. But how will they gel with the pieces that are left in Bucharest?

Judging from the first training camp in Podgorica, where CSM beat Buducnost twice, everything seemed to be going smoothly. But CSM then lost the first domestic title available this season, the Supercup, in what was a shock result considering the roster.

CSM cannot be expected to fire on all cylinders immediately or even when the Champions League starts in October, but the Supercup loss was nevertheless an unexpected obstacle. However, the key is to preserve the status quo until the business end of the competition.

A mountain to climb for Johansson?

CSM’s penchant for Nordic coaches has been there to be seen, as the team’s managers have employed seven coaches from Denmark or Sweden in the past four years. The merry-go-round stopped this time at Magnus Karl Johansson, who was Per Johansson’s assistant coach for the Sweden women’s national team between 2008 and 2011.

However, CSM’s choice raised a few eyebrows, as the 48-year-old Swedish coach has never been trusted with such a high-profile job. His relative inexperience is not the only red flag, as CSM, who boasted several Nordic players in the previous seasons, only count Amanda Kurtovic, Nathalie Hagman and Sabine Jacobsen in the roster for 2018/19.

Johansson’s challenge will be to adapt the Scandinavian style to a more robust team. The start was, however, bumpy. CSM lost the Romanian Supercup against SCM Ramnicu Valcea, 32:30, after four rounds of extra time – and their chemistry has been nowhere to be seen in the Romanian League games.

Will CSM be able to fill Isabelle Gullden’s spot?

In only three seasons, Isabelle Gullden became a local cult hero in Bucharest, with her own legion of fans following her religiously with banners, teddy bears and chants. The pleas for their favourite to stay were left unanswered, as Gullden felt a change was needed, and left to lead French side Brest Bretagne to glory.

Three years ago, CSM would not have won the Women’s EHF Champions League if not for Gullden, who scored 15 goals in the magnificent final against Györ in a packed Papp Laszlo Arena. Her production dwindled especially in the last season, when a flurry of injuries hampered her ability to dominate on the court. In comes Andrea Lekic, a savvy playmaker with a different skillset – albeit a more prominent goal threat, with at least 55 goals in each of the last 10 seasons in Europe’s premium competition.

Undoubtedly, Lekic will share the ball duties with Cristina Neagu, and if they click, their back-court partnership should be one of the toughest in the Champions League to defend.

Under the spotlight: Cristina Neagu

Twice in the past four seasons, Cristina Neagu has finished as the top scorer of the Women’s EHF Champions League. Her past four seasons in Europe’s top-flight competition show records of 102, 94, 90 and 110 goals. Having Neagu on board will guarantee any side a plethora of goals, as the Romanian ace probably has the strongest arm in women’s handball.

Yet opponents have learned her tricks and started to frustrate her, as even a player like Neagu cannot win a game on her own. Györ shut her down majestically in last season’s semi-final, therefore, Neagu needs to do one better if she is to retain the crown of the world’s best player.

Self-esteem

Eight players from CSM have already won the Women’s EHF Champions League, so they can lead by example. However, there is a twist. Already renowned for their competitive spirit, players like Lekic, Cvijic, Radicevic and Lazovic have been heartbroken twice in a row, losing the final against Györ in extra time when playing for Vardar. They have vowed to come back stronger, even after Vardar folded due to financial trouble, and have found the perfect club to challenge for the title in the form of CSM.

Fun fact

There are two Montenegrin, two Serbian, two Swedish and two Slovenian players in a team otherwise dominated by Romanians (eight).

What the numbers say

In all their three outings in the Women’s EHF Champions League, CSM always managed to snatch a medal: gold (2016) and bronze (2017 and 2018), for a 100% medal record. No other team that played at least two seasons in the history of the competition enjoyed such an achievement.

CSM Bucuresti (ROU)

Qualification for the VELUX EHF Champions League season 2018/19: Romanian champions

Newcomers: Andrea Lekic (HC Vardar), Dragana Cvijic (HC Vardar), Jovanka Radicevic (HC Vardar), Barbara Lazovic (HC Vardar), Elizabeth Omoregie (RK Krim Ljubljana), Madalina Ion (CSM Unirea Slobozia)

Left the club: Isabelle Gullden (Brest Bretagne), Camille Ayglon Saurina (Nantes), Gnonsiane Niombla (Metz Handball), Alina Iordache (HC Buzău), Anastasiya Lobach (TBD), Marit Malm Frafjord (end of career)

Coach: Magnus Karl Johansson (since July 2018)

Team captain: Iulia Curea

Women’s EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2018/19 season): 4
Winners (1): 2015/2016
Semi-final (2): 2016/17, 2017/18

Other EC:
EHF Cup:
Last 16 (1): 2011/12

Romanian league: four titles (2014/15, 2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18)
Romanian Cup: three titles (2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18)
Romanian Supercup: three titles (2015/16, 2016/17, 2017/18)


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg
 
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