Larissa Kalaus: “We will give our last drop of sweat on the court”
HC Lokomotiva Zagreb have been waiting the whole week for Saturday night. The Croatian team is eager to step back on the court for the decisive leg of the EHF European Cup Women final.
Lokomotiva need to make up a four-goal deficit against Rincon Fertilidad Malaga, after the Spanish side won the first leg 32:28 at home last week.
For a team like Lokomotiva, this is not a mission impossible. The Zagreb-based club has been, alongside HC Podravka Vegeta, a synonym for women's handball in Croatia.
Their first European season was back in 1995, and since then they have missed only two seasons. The biggest success of the club came in 2017, when they won the Challenge Cup.
Now Lokomotiva are in a position to win Europe’s third-tier competition again. Driven by eight players from Croatia’s bronze medal-winning squad at the EHF EURO 2020, the club is a base for many Croatian talents.
One of them is left back Larissa Kalaus, who joined Lokomotiva with her one-minute-older sister Dora in 2015.
Larissa Kalaus has become one of the leading scorers of her team. She was the competition's top scorer with 55 goals when Lokomotiva won the Challenge Cup four years ago. This season, she has netted 43 times in the European Cup, more than any of her teammates.
For a player naming Miranda Tatari, Stine Oftedal, Drago Vukovic and Kiril Lazarov as her role models, it is no wonder she is getting better each year. Next season, she will move back to domestic rivals and Croatian champions, Podravka.
“We are satisfied with the season so far in the EHF European Cup. Unfortunately, this season had ups and downs for everyone,” said Kalaus, referring to the fact that not all matches could be played as scheduled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lokomotiva have every reason to be satisfied: they won all their matches in the European Cup by at least four goals – until the first leg of the final against Malaga last week.
They suffered a four-goal defeat in Spain, but despite the loss, Kalaus was one of the standout players of the match with 10 goals.
Still, the left back was aware that Lokomotiva need a better performance in the second leg.
“We have done some mistakes in the first match against Malaga and we will do our best to fix them by Saturday. We have to focus more on the defence, which was our trademark this season,” Kalaus said. “We were not at our best in Spain, we had a small number of fouls and too many technical mistakes in attack.”
Another difference compared to the first leg will be the presence of Nenad Sostaric. The head coach missed the trip to Malaga due to illness but will be back on the bench Saturday.
Sostaric is a great motivator and one of the main forces behind the Croatian national team’s stunning run to the bronze medal at the EHF EURO 2020.
Lokomotiva was led by assistant coach Iva Kanjugovic last week, and while she did a good job, Kalaus said that Sostaric’s absence was noticeable.
“We missed his reactions in the crucial moments when we were down or nervous,” said Kalaus, who believed that Sostaric and Kanjugovic, together with the experience from the away game, will give Lokomotiva additional wind in the sails.
When I look back on this season, it was unbelievable. Despite all obstacles and hard conditions due to the global pandemic, we managed to surprise everyone.
Kalaus comes from Krizevci, where she started playing handball in Mlinar. She joined Podravka in 2007 and gained first EHF Champions League experience in 2012/13.
After two seasons with ZRK Koka Varazdin, she arrived at Lomotiva in 2015, and is set to return to Podravka in this summer.
“I wish we win this competition again. It would be a great way to finish the European part of the season, especially for me as I am leaving,” Kalaus said.
“That is why our goals are clear: to be in the Croatian cup final, to be as best as we can in domestic championship and to be injury-free at the end of the season.”
The all-decisive match of the EHF European Cup Women on Saturday starts at 20:00 CEST and, contrary to the previous week in Malaga, no fans will be allowed into the arena.
“I believe making up Malaga’s advantage of four goals is something that it is achievable in handball,” Kalaus said. “We will give our last drop of sweat on the court in Zagreb.”
No matter the result on Saturday, the season has been a special one for Kalaus after her run with Croatia to bronze in December.
“When I look back on this season, it was unbelievable. Despite all obstacles and hard conditions due to the global pandemic, we managed to surprise everyone,” Kalaus said. “Nobody believed in us and we pulled off the biggest surprise with Croatia, something we didn’t believe, either.”