This is the 3rd EHF FINAL4 participation of Győri Audi ETO KC in Budapest – they have only missed one when an injury-hit Győr couldn’t make it past Vardar to the main event of the women’s club handball. After missing the FINAL4 in 2015, the Hungarian team almost went all the way from the qualification to the top in 2016 when they lost the final in a dramatic match after a penalty shootout against CSM Bucuresti. Last season’s silver medalists are ready to make that little still big step to the top.
The season started well for Győri Audi ETO KC. Even though the Hungarian team was drawn to probably the hardest EHF Champions League Group – besides Győr, there were the defending champions CSM Bucuresti, Russian powerhouse Rostov-Don and the always dangerous FC Midtjylland -, the team of Ambros Martín flew through the Group Stage very confidently. With confidence-boosting victories in Bucharest and Rostov, Győr only lost two points in Denmark in a match without importance regarding the qualification for the Main Round. Still in the autumn season, the best pivot of the world, Heidi Löke announced that she is expecting a baby and will be out for the rest of the season. Besides the happiness for Heidi’s motherhood, the task was hard to solve for Győr: it is not possible to replace Heidi Löke, and even less possible in the middle of the season. This was the time when Yvette Broch had to come to the main stage from a rather defensive specialist to Heidi Löke’s successor. Győr also contracted Tunisian-born, naturalized Hungarian Asma Elghaoui from Siófok.
After the “Group of Death” in the Group Stage, Győr had a little more air to breathe in the Main Round: the Main Round Group seemed to be somewhat lighter with Larvik HK in financial trouble, Krim Ljubljana and Team Esbjerg. As expected, Győr was going strong in the spring season, losing only one point at home against Larvik HK. They finished on the top of their group in MR which meant they faced Metz in the quarterfinals. In the first leg, they suffered a little surprising narrow 1-goal defeat in France – only fellow Hungarians FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria managed to take two points from Les Arénes in Metz while Vardar ended up losing by 14 there -, but the Hungarian champions left no questions open in the second match against the French side. Their confident, 6-goal win meant the desired tickets to Budapest.
Győr hasn’t seemed too lucky with injuries in the past seasons – their short bench might be their biggest danger ahead of the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4. Besides the pregnancy of Heidi Löke, the team won’t be able to count on Dorina Korsós (ACL surgery), while Adrienn Orbán and Gabriella Tóth joined Kisvárda on loan for the rest of the season. In their last match before the main event, Győr only had 12 players named in Érd (23-34) but most of those 12 players are world classes in their positions. The love of around 8-9000 Hungarian fans in the László Papp Sports Arena can give an energy boost and wings to the Hungarian team – this can somewhat compensate the short bench but Ambros Martín won’t have it easy to use his team in the best way to have enough energy for the second day.
Győr will face their old rivals Buducnost in the semifinal – exactly the same as last year. A year ago, the Hungarians defeated the Montenegrins in one of the best women’s handball matches ever seen (21-20) and we can expect something similar on Saturday. The defense will be the key in the clash of two teams conceding the lowest number of goals so far (340-340). In attack, it will be interesting to see the duel of superstar shooters – Nora Mörk against Katarina Bulatovic and Eduarda Amorim against Cristina Neagu. Győr’s most successful goal hunter is Nora Mörk with 78 goals – the Norwegian back was the only new signing for Győr in the summer, and the number of goals scored by her means she found her place in the team very quickly. The Hungarian team is always having the pressure and pleasure of being the home team in Budapest, followed by a lot of fans. Győr was the winner of the last edition of the old format (2013) and the first winner of the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest (2014). There is a saying in Hungary that “3 is the Hungarian truth”. Győri Audi ETO KC and the fans are hoping for the third Champions League-trophy in their third EHF FINAL4.