Englert’s European record
Since the founding of the EHF, no German women’s club has won the Champions League or the EHF Cup, and the last trophy for a German side in the Cup Winners’ Cup dates to 1996 (TV Lützellingen). But it is a German player who has broken an EHF-wide record in women’s club handball competitions: Sabine Englert.
The 39-year-old goalkeeper, who plays for Danish side Herning-Ikast Håndbold, is set for the semi-finals in a fifth European cup competition, with her team to face Siófok KC in the newly formed European League. Previously, Englert has been among the best four teams in the Champions League, the EHF Cup, the Cup Winners’ Cup and the Challenge Cup.
“I wasn’t even aware of that. I don’t really pay attention to such things,” said the former German international, who has played in Herning for 12 years with the club previously called FC Midtjylland. Before that, she was between the posts for Hypo Niederösterreich for two years after starting her career in Mainzlar and then continuing as a duo with two-time Champions League winner Clara Woltering at Bayer Leverkusen.
However, Englert celebrated most of her successes at Herning, where she has been three-time Danish champion and four-times Cup winner, and has also been very successful at a European level.
Englert played her first European semi-final in the Challenge Cup 2004/05 with Bayer Leverkusen against Split from Croatia. Bayer reached the final against French side Dijon with two clear victories. After a 27:28 result in the first leg of the final and 25:22 at home, Bayer and Englert climbed the winners’ podium.
In 2007, the goalkeeper joined Hypo — and in her first international seasons with the Austrian club, Englert played the first Champions League semi-final in her career against Lada Togliatti from Russia. Thanks to a 36:29 win in the second leg after a 28:31 defeat, Hypo reached the final. In the final against another Russia team, debutants Zvezda Zvenigorod, Hypo lost narrowly twice (24:25, 29:31).
“In terms of significance, those were the most important club games of my career. To win another European competition is something to celebrate of course, but it is different from Champions League — that’s the biggest thing. And for me it was really bitter in 2008, as I had suffered an even more tearful defeat in the Bundesliga final against Nuremburg before I left Bayer in 2007. Finals weren't my friends in those two years.”
After two years at Hypo, Englert went to FC Midtjylland — and after a few national trophies, she won the first European cup title with FCM in 2011: the EHF Cup. It was an all-Danish final against Tvis Holstebro, after FCM eliminated German side VfL Oldenburg in the semi-finals. For Englert, it was the third different European competition in which she had reached the penultimate stage.
In 2014, Englert and FCM once again made it to the Champions League semi-finals — and the premiere of the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, as the only Danish team to date. “It was incredible to have a format like this with the four best teams on one weekend. It’s something different from finals played in a first and second leg, even if we had the fewest fans with us by a huge margin,” says the goalkeeper looking back on the weekend that saw two defeats: in the semi-final against the eventual title holders Györ and in the 3/4 placement match against Vardar.
But one year later, Englert won her next European competition: In the Cup Winners’ Cup 2014/15, FCM eliminated FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria in the semi-final. In the final, the Danish team lost 22:23 and won 24:19 against Fleury from France for an aggregate victory of 46:42.
Since then, FCM became Herning-Ikast and the club have played two Champions League quarter-finals and qualified for two EHF Cup semi-finals, in 2019 and 2020. The first, Herning-Ikast lost to Danish neighbours Esbjerg, and the 2020 edition was cancelled due to COVID-19.
Over the summer of 2020, the new EHF European League was launched. And again, Englert and Herning-Ikast have made it to the semi-finals. The side were group winners and then knocked Lada out in the quarter-finals.
On 8 May, at the final tournament in Baia Mare, Englert and her side will play against Siófok from Hungary — the EHF Cup winners in 2019. “They are, of course, the big favorites for the title. But we stick with the old wisdom that you have to beat all your opponents if you want to win a trophy,” says Englert, who is currently in the title race in three competitions: Ikast-Herning are also part of the semi-finals in the Danish Cup and the championship.
“We actually still have a lot of room for improvement. Anything can happen when you have two games in 24 hours, as the many final four tournaments have shown,” says the experienced goalkeeper.
Englert, who also works part-time in the accounting department of a hospital, has extended her contract in Herning until 2022. Perhaps she will enter the new season as the European League title defender — but definitely as record holder for semi-finals in international competitions.