“An honour to represent our country in the biggest teams”
Three years ago, Yahia Omar stepped onto the European club court for the first time — right into the biggest competition and with one of its powerhouses, Telekom Veszprém.
Now, the Egyptian right back has three years of EHF Champions League experience behind him, plays an important role for the Hungarian side at both ends of the court, has become well-known to fans of Europe’s premier club competition — and is still just 24.
“I’m progressing and evolving as a player every day. I have much bigger goals so I don’t think I’m going to be satisfied soon. But I’m sure that I’ve been on the right track for these three years and I hope I can grow more mentally and physically,” says Omar, reflecting on his time at Veszprém since he joined in 2019/20.
That ended up being a strange season to move clubs — and continents — with the end of it disrupted due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite the fewer matches on the path to the EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, Omar netted 32 goals in his first season with Veszprém. In 2020/21, he finished with 56, with Veszprém eliminated in the quarter-final stage against HBC Nantes.
After 11 rounds of the 2021/22 group phase, Omar is Veszprém’s third top scorer, with 42 goals.
Veszprém sit third in a highly competitive group B, counting 13 points in their tally after six wins, one draw and four defeats. The Hungarian team are three points behind group leaders Kielce and one behind defending title holders Barça.
On the other side, PSG are just one behind Veszprém and the Hungarian side are four points clear of the fifth-ranked team, Flensburg.
“The season was full of ups and downs — probably one of the hardest groups in Champions League history in terms of competition. We still have three games left in the group. We have to take maximum points and we evaluate ourselves then,” says Omar of Veszprém’s 2021/22 campaign.
Veszprém will end the 2021/22 group phase against a tough schedule of opponents and arenas: Barça in Spain in the Match of the Week this Thursday (live on EHFTV at 18:45 CET), Kielce in Hungary in round 13 and PSG in France in round 14.
The right results in the final rounds could see Veszprém finish as one of the top two sides and book a direct quarter-final berth. So does Omar have this in mind or is dreaming of overall table ranking, which relies on others’ results as well, ill-advised?
“We have three hard games in a row. Our goal always is the win. We hope to win as much [as we can] as that will take us closer to the EHF FINAL4,” says Omar. “We think about everything of course but we take every game on its own.”
I’m progressing and evolving as a player every day. I have much bigger goals so I don’t think I’m going to be satisfied soon. But I’m sure that I’ve been on the right track for these three years and I hope I can grow more mentally and physically.
Most recently and in their only game so far in 2022, after the national team break all January, Veszprém drew with FC Porto in Hungary, 28:28.
“We played at home. It was a hard result to take because of course we wanted to win, but we have to look at our weaknesses and be better the next day, to focus on the next game in Barcelona,” says Omar of the clash against Porto.
Interestingly, the last time Veszprém dropped a Champions League point at home was in February one year ago in the exact same stage of the season — the first game back, against none other than their upcoming opponents Barça.
However, in the reverse fixture in September this season, Veszprém defeated Barça 29:28 to end the title holders’ run of 29 group phase victories in a row, which stretched back to 2019.
“We expect an extremely hard game. We won against them at home so they are prepared for us. They were the champions last year — a team with huge quality and high confidence, so to win we have to be really good that night. We are ready from now and prepared for everything,” says Omar.
Omar has been gathering experience and developing fast. That is also visible due to his prominence in the Egypt national team, who rose to the top of international competitions in 2021 with memorable performances at the World Championship and Olympic Games.
Playing alongside Omar in the Egypt jersey at those events was Barça left back Ali Zein, who is in his first season with the Spanish club. His breakthrough experience has been similar to Omar’s, as Zein played mainly outside Europe before debuting in the Champions League with the most titled club in the competition in 2021/22.
The two national teammates will meet as their clubs duel for important points in this crunch stage of the group phase.
“It was really strange the first time,” says Omar of the first time he played against Zein. “We are really close as friends and I played with him in the national team for six years now. We never faced each other even in the Egyptian league before, so of course it was a different feeling, but also an honour to be representing our country in one of the biggest two teams in the world.”