Four powerhouses ready to rock in brand new MVM Dome
“I am eager to play in the new arena, I cannot wait to see how it is and how the fans will cheer,” says Vipers’ right back, Nora Mørk, one day before the throw off of the EHF FINAL4 Women 2022.
This will be the eighth edition of the business end of the EHF Champions League Women since the format was altered before the 2013/14 season, and it will also be the eighth time that the top four teams travel to Budapest to tough it out for the trophy.
The caveat for the current season is that the Papp László Arena has been replaced with the MVM Dome, a state-of-the-art arena in Budapest, with a capacity of 20,022 seats.
Opened in December 2021 and inaugurated during the Men’s EHF EURO 2022, hosting the final between Sweden and Spain, the MVM Dome is a perfect setting for the peak of the European premium competition, where reigning champions Vipers Kristiansand, Györi Audi ETO KC, Metz Handball and Team Esbjerg eye the big prize – the EHF Champions League Women trophy.
All four teams travelled to Budapest on Thursday and have already trained in the Hungarian capital, in the adjacent training arenas in the MVM Dome. They will take to the court on Saturday in the semi-finals of the EHF FINAL4.
While Vipers and Györ have won the title before, Metz Handball and Team Esbjerg will be looking for their first-ever silverware in the European premium competition.
Esbjerg await history
Esbjerg, who have lost only one game the whole season in the EHF Champions League Women, and have a 13-game unbeaten streak entering the business end of the competition, will also make their debut in the EHF FINAL4.
The question is whether they will cope with the pressure, especially with over 12,000 fans expected to cheer for Györ.
“When we beat Bucharest in front of their 5,000 fans [in the quarter-finals] we also got nervous, but we were able to overcome that. Tomorrow it will be 12,000 people or more, but I hope we can copy that performance tomorrow,” says Esbjerg’s coach, Jesper Jensen, during the media call scheduled on Friday.
The moment is not lost on Esbjerg’s Sanna Solberg-Isaksen, who was also revealed as the All-Star left wing of the EHF Champions League Women this season.
"It is crazy big. It is the hugest thing that the club has been a part of. We have been working like this and taking one step at a time, and we were hoping that we would be here during some more years, and now already we are here this year," adds the Norwegian player.
However, Esbjerg’s path to the final will cross with the most decorated side in the history of the competition, Györi Audi ETO KC, who they will face in the first semi-final (15:15 CEST on Saturday 4 June, live on EHFTV).
Györ’s record in Budapest in the EHF FINAL4 speaks volumes – 10 wins and only two losses – and the Hungarian champions have also lost only one game this season, against Vipers Kristiansand in the last round of the group phase, when they had already secured the first place in group B.
These will be the last two games in her career for goalkeeper Amandine Leynaud, who will retire at the end of the season, and the chance to win the EHF Champions League Women for only the second time in her career.
“I made this decision and I am in peace with that, but I don’t want to be thinking about retiring now. I just try to enjoy the moment like I have done throughout the year.
“If you want to achieve final victory, you have to get through the semi-final first. It will not be easy. There are many different teams with different styles of play, I am sure it will be a great weekend of handball,” says Leynaud.
A different game
The other semi-final will pit the reigning champions, Vipers Kristiansand, against Metz Handball, from 18:00 CEST.
Featuring legendary players like Mørk and Katrine Lunde, who could each win the competition for the sixth time, tying Ausra Fridrikas and Bojana Popovic, Vipers will need to beat Metz for the first time this season, after conceding two losses in the group phase.
“We played twice this season against them and lost both games. They were simply better than us, we were outplayed, we gave them too many chances to score and they took advantage. This is a different game and we need to up our level if we are to challenge for the title,” says Mørk.
On the other hand, Metz will look to avenge their two defeats from the EHF FINAL4 in 2019. The French side have never won a game in the business end of the European premium competition.
One of the players who is still part of that roster, centre back Grace Zaadi, will play her last two games for the French champions, moving to pastures new from this summer.
"In 2019, when we played the (EHF) FINAL4 with Metz, we had beaten Rostov twice, and we lost to Rostov in the semi-final of the FINAL4. So we know that winning twice against an opponent means nothing, that each match has its own history and its own truth. Tomorrow we're expecting a different match,” concludes Zaadi.