19.05.2014, 04:20
Szeged leave lasting impression

BLOG: Moments shared, memories made and plenty of suspense on Sunday, ehfTV commentator Tom Ó Brannagáin looks back at his first EHF Cup Finals

Szeged leave lasting impression

Another final. "May Madness" they called it. Berlin was the epicentre of the handball world for two days. A city once split between four nations was represented by four in the form of their top clubs. East met west in a tournament that mirrored a Cold War time when the competition was a little different. Whereas Checkpoint Charlie was once the visual image of this divide, The Max-Schmeling-Halle became the focal point of an altogether different rivalry.

Each team came with differing objectives. For the hosts Berlin, a win was vital. Montpellier also. The teams of Szeged and Constanta, probably flew slightly below the radar of most experts. 

Semi-finals by their very nature are rarely open and exciting games. The philosophy to "not lose" generally overcomes the desire to win. The result is cagey handball, with few players daring to take the game by the scruff of the neck, rarely risking the ire of coach, to try something a little special. They are functional games, where making a mistake can be the difference between the excitement of the final or the resignation of a 3/4 placement game.

Montpellier, to their credit bucked that trend, albeit it had more to do with their complete dominance of a Constanta team, which, despite their effort, looked out of their depth. By contrast, the Szeged vs Berlin game was the classic semi-final. A cagey, and not very inspirational game was saved by the physical battle of the defences. Szeged showed power and heart to overcome a Berlin team that was lacklustre on the day. Sunday's finals brought a panache and attacking gusto unheard of before.

I am very lucky with my commentary position in the "Max". It has a perfect view of the court and it has a wonderful smell. It is right in front of a popcorn stand and the smell evokes in me the wonder of cinema. The arena becomes for me a private viewing and much as the kernels begin to heat and pop, so did the games on Sunday. We witnessed one of the greatest 3/4 place matches of any finals. Neither Berlin, nor Constanta, was willing to finish last. They tore into each other and the game was on a knife-edge until the final minute. During that last 15 minutes, Iker Romero took the game in his own hands and dragged an under performing Berlin from the brink of disaster to the heights that only a comeback win can guarantee. It was a special game, for the fans and for us as we saw a winner, not only wanting to win, but pushing himself and his teammates to the absolute limit to reassure fans that their team would not go quietly into the night.

The final itself was no less exciting. If "Max" is the name of the arena, these players showed Max power, Max passion and Max heart to give the packed arena a final to be proud of. And the fans stayed. Perhaps buoyed by their teams win in the 3rd place game, the fans of Berlin, to their credit remained and cheered on both teams until the final whistle.

They were backed by the hundreds of Szeged, Montpellier and Constanta fans, who despite their smaller numbers made themselves heard throughout. 

The game itself was never decided until literally 10 seconds from the end, when Szeged scored a penalty to give themselves a insurmountable two goal lead. Szeged who would never have been anyone's "Pick" as champions, did it by a combination of sheer grit, determination, heart, defence and a goalkeeper; "Mickler", at the top of his game. There are no stars in this team, just a collection of players who work hard for each other, who support and cajole at the right times throughout the game. You could not pick one above the other as being more important during the game and this is the meaning of team. Pastor has instilled a sense of worth in them and they confounded all the pundits. 

Berlin hosted a great finals in the EHF Cup. Even in the darkest moment, having lost the semi-final to Szeged, when peoples jaws were on the floor and eyes were filled with the pain of losing, they rose to the occasion even further on Sunday, desperate to make sure fans and players alike were left with a lasting impression.

We certainly were. And in a city of memorials, I have a feeling that the names of each of the Szeged players will be etched perhaps not in stone in their home city, but most certainly in the minds of every fan who made the journey or watched at home on TV. They are heroes and rightly so. Their illustrious neighbours may usually get all the spotlight, but not this weekend. Pick Szeged is a European champion, continuing the role of Hungarian clubs this season.

And as their coach, Pastor, completed another year of his life, he made the lives of the Szeged fan complete yesterday. Grown men cried at the end of the match as players and fans alike shared a moment, in an empty arena, by singing the Hungarian national anthem.

Having tasted success once, they will be hungry for more.

TEXT: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehfTV commentator

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