High five: Martin eyes record title with Györ
The EHF FINAL4 Women 2022 in Budapest this weekend marks the eighth edition of the season-ending event since its inauguration in 2013/14 – and its history has been tightly knit to one person.
While players like Anita Görbicz and Eduarda Amorim featured six times at the EHF FINAL4, Györi Audi ETO KC head coach Ambros Martin is going to Budapest for a record seventh time, vying for the big prize once again.
Györ start their title mission in the semi-final against Team Esbjerg on Saturday 4 June at 15:15 CEST (live on EHFTV); Metz Handball and Vipers Kristiansand meet in the other semi-final.
With four titles in the EHF Champions League Women, with Györ in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2018, Martin is one of the great masterminds in the history of women’s handball. In his six visits to the EHF FINAL4 so far with Györ and Rostov-Don, he has won nine matches and lost three.
This weekend, he has the chance for ‘una manita’ – the Spanish term for winning five titles: one trophy for each finger of the hand.
For that to happen, Györ must rack up a record sixth title in nine years in Europe’s premium women’s club competition.
“Those numbers do not matter so much to me. Handball is important, the way the team plays is important, as is being prepared for two very difficult games in the space of two days. Records are nice, but we really focus on the task at hand,” the 54-year-old Martin said.
“Yes, I have some beautiful memories from the EHF FINAL4, it is the peak of the season, where all the great teams in the competition are trying to win the trophy. The environment is very competitive.”
Even by their already high standards, this season has been nothing short of spectacular for Györ. They won 14 of their 16 games, only losing away to titleholders Vipers Kristiansand (30:29) when the first place in group B had already been secured, and drawing with Brest Bretagne Handball (21:21) in the first leg of the quarter-final.
Martin’s side has the best attack in the competition with an average of 32.9 goals per game, while their defence has conceded the fewest goals per game: 24.8 on average.
This means that Györ are coming in hot into the EHF FINAL4, especially on the back of a superb second leg in their quarter-final played against last year’s runners-up, Brest Bretagne Handball. The Hungarian side won the home game 35:23 with a flawless performance.
But Martin preaches caution, with plenty of experience under his belt from the previous seasons, when Györ won three titles in Budapest but also suffered dramatic losses in penalty shootouts to CSM Bucuresti in the final of 2016 and Brest in the semi-final of 2021.
“The EHF Champions League is such a difficult competition to grasp, it has various stages and you have to be at full gas in every game. The group phase has 14 games, then you have elimination games, and the winner is decided in only two days in Budapest,” Martin said.
“You have to be prepared for every challenge, you need to be sharp and never let your guard down, because you could lose a crucial game that derails the season.”
His comeback at Györ late last season did not yield the results sought by the team’s management in the short term, but Martin’s second appointment was always going to be a long-term project.
However, the team the Spanish coach inherited is well different from the one that secured three titles in a row between 2017 and 2019. Stalwarts like Eduarda Amorim, Anita Görbicz or Nycke Groot have gone, yet the team has a strong core with players that know each other well and have a superb connection.
Though they have the best attack of the competition, responsibilities are shared: Györ’s leading scorer, centre back Stine Oftedal, has netted 54 times, which puts her just in 31st place in the top scorers’ standings.
“It is always exciting to coach such a great team, because you have multiple options at your disposal,” Martin said.
“It is true, the team is different now and those players were truly amazing. Now, we also have some amazing players, and we will be trying to get better and better.”
The EHF Champions League is such a difficult competition to grasp, it has various stages and you have to be at full gas in every game. The winner is decided in only two days in Budapest. You have to be prepared for every challenge, you need to be sharp and never let your guard down, because you could lose a crucial game that derails the season.
But is Martin’s side the favourite to win the trophy on Sunday?
Win or lose, Györ will remain the top team of the last decade. But it would be special to clinch a record sixth EHF Champions League trophy – especially after a three-year pause, with the 2020 edition canceled amid the pandemic and Vipers winning in 2021.
“It would be amazing to win it again, but this will be very difficult,” Martin said.
“The level is very, very high. Metz Handball are champions in France this season. Vipers Kristiansand have won the title in Norway. And Team Esbjerg are now battling for the championship in Denmark.”
Is the semi-final against Esbjerg a favourable draw for Györ?
“I would not say we had a good or a bad draw, I would not prefer it any other way,” Martin said. “The first challenge is to beat Esbjerg and then we will think about the final.”