All-Romanian side dream of glory
The love affair between the city of Brașov and handball has been on and off for the last twenty years. But after a seven-year hiatus and some difficult moments, which saw the Romanian side almost disappearing from handball, Brașov qualified once again for an European semi-final.
After flirting with mediocrity for at least three years, Corona Brașov made their comeback this season and wrestled their way through to the Women’s EHF Cup Semi-finals.
While Corona failed to reach the heights of CSM Bucuresti or HCM Baia Mare, the Romanian powerhouses who qualified for the Women’s EHF Champions League quarter-finals, Brașov still have an unique selling point.
A 100% Romanian team is what Corona promised two seasons ago and the project moved on without any foreign interference. As Bucuresti or Baia Mare brought in several Brazilian world champions and Nordic talents, Corona stayed true to their promise and nurtured home-grown talents.
"Our project is an unique one in Romania, we tried to bring the best players here and I think we have managed it. We did not seek for foreign players, because our ambitions would have immediately been raised. But we are as happy as we could be and I think developing young players is very rewarding for both our team and our national team," said Bogdan Burcea, Corona’s coach.
Therefore, it was no surprise that the Romanian side finished behind the two powerhouses in the national league, but Brașov’s determination and skill were enough to win two games on their home court against HCM Baia Mare.
Still, almost no one expected such a lengthy participation in the Women’s EHF Cup for a 100% Romanian side.
After beating Pogon Baltica Szczecin 48:44 (24:24 and 24:22) in Round 3, the draw made sure that a Romanian side would be in the quarter-finals, as Brașov were pitted against local rivals H.C.M. Roman.
A 26:21 win in Brașov, in which Cristina Zamfir stood out with 11 goals, made Roman’s win in the second leg (22:21) redundant.
The big surprise came when Brașov won against HC Odense (50:42) in the quarter-finals. Afterwards, the Romanian side were drawn against TuS Metzingen in the semi-finals.
"Truth be told, we were expecting a good outcome this season, even reaching the business end of the Women’s EHF Cup. Our roster has the skill and experience to navigate through a tough competition like this and I think we really have done well so far," added coach Burcea.
If Corona Brașov want to reach their third European final in 11 years, after winning the Challenge Cup in 2006 and losing the Cup Winners’ Cup Final in 2008 against Larvik, the Romanian side need flawless games from Cristina Zamfir.
With a powerful shot that reminds the Romanian fans of Cristina Neagu, Zamfir has already scored 38 goals this season, being the cornerstone of a team who relies also on right wing Laura Chiper, goalkeeper Denisa Dedu and the experienced back players Carmen Cartaș and Oana Bondar.
However, Corona’s coach does not see his side as a true favourite against Metzingen: "We are the underdogs in this game, because we are facing a very good opponent, with a good and experienced coach. I think their main selling point is that they have a balanced side.
"They have a very good and experienced starting line-up. But we have prepared for this game for the last three weeks and we want to win. Of course, it would have been nicer to play the second leg in Romania, but we can celebrate in Germany, too. We want this to be the case," concluded Bogdan Burcea.
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / es