EHF FINALS hosts Baia Mare meet Nantes, Siófok play Herning-Ikast
The hosts of the very first EHF FINALS Women, CS Minaur Baia Mare, will take on Nantes Atlantique Handball in a Romanian-French semi-final on Saturday 8 May.
On the same day, Siófok KC from Hungary and Danish side Herning-Ikast Håndbold will contest the other match for a place in the EHF European League Women 2020/21 final.
That is the result of the draw, which was conducted by EHF President Michael Wiederer at the EHF Office in Vienna on Thursday.
Just before the draw, the EHF confirmed Baia Mare as the hosts of the inaugural EHF FINALS Women on 8/9 May. Playing arena is the Sala Polivalenta Lascar Pana.
The event marks the first time in EHF history that the women’s second-tier club competition will find its champions in the exciting four-team finals tournament format known from various other EHF competitions.
"Baia Mare will host a superb tournament in May"
Baia Mare might be getting used to playing their European League matches in Romania: The EHF FINALS come after both their duels in the quarter-final – against Dunarea Braila – also took place in their home country.
"It is a great honour to host the EHF FINALS Women, but I do not think we are the team to beat here," Baia Mare coach Costica Buceschi said.
Due to pandemic-related restrictions, no spectators will be allowed in the arena in Romania.
"Unfortunately, our great fans cannot take part, but we are still a tough team to win against on home court, winning all the home games played this season," Buceschi said.
Playing against Nantes, Baia Mare face opponents who have not before gone this far in an European club competition.
"Nantes are a very good team, playing very well both in the EHF European League and in the French domestic league," Buceschi said. "Siófok KC and Herning-Ikast Handball are also two great teams, very experienced in Europe, and I think Baia Mare will host a superb tournament in May. The level is very high and we are looking forward to it."
"We want to put cherries on top of our already baked cake"
And Nantes, on their turn, make clear that they are not satisfied with 'just' reaching their first European semi-final.
"We are really happy to be among the four best teams in the European League but we want more," Nantes head coach Guillaume Saurina said. "The history of the club has already been written, as this is the best European campaign ever for Nantes. Now we want to put cherries on top of our already baked cake, and winning the EHF FINALS is one of them."
Overcoming the hosts, however, won't be an easy task for Nantes, as Saurina was well aware.
"We knew that we would be playing a good team, as I see Nantes as the outsider. I had no preference for an opponent, so Baia Mare will probably be the favorite," the coach said.
"Siófok are the toughest team we could have drawn"
The other semi-final features two clubs who have more experience of playing at this stage of an international competition.
Siófok won the EHF Cup as recent as two years ago, while Herning-Ikast have been familiar with the four-team finals tournament format since their appearance at the first EHF FINAL4 in 2014.
"I think Siófok are the toughest team we could have drawn but I am very excited to play in the EHF FINALS against one of the best teams and maybe we can win," Herning-Ikast's Norwegian right back Stine Skogrand said.
"I know that Andrea Kobetic has been injured but they have a good team with good international players from Hungary and Croatia and it is difficult to find weak spots."
While Skogrand thinks there could be no tougher opponent for her side, Siófok line player Katarina Jezic says there are no favourites at this stage of the competition.
"I watched a few of their matches and they are a very strong team, playing good in both ways. It will be a tough match," says Jezic. "In the final four matches everything is possible — there are no favorites nor underdogs. We have to be on the best level; play our best game this season. We must if we want to win and reach the finals. That would be a huge step towards lifting the such wanted trophy."
Skogrand is pleased with her team's performances to far this season, but acknowledged that the toughest test for Herning-Ikast will just be coming up in Baia Mare.
"We have had a good season in Europe and the Danish league," she said. "But I think the teams in this tournament are a step better than what we have faced so far."
The playing order of the two semi-finals on Saturday 8 May will be confirmed in due time.