Vyakhireva back to Budapest with eyes on the title
One thing is sure — Anna Vyakhireva definitely feels better on the court than in a room full of media trying to get some quotes from the star right back before the EHF FINAL4.
“I am a bit stressed now, because there are so many people here, but it will get better,” says Vyakhireva with a big smile on her face when asked about her feelings coming to Budapest.
The 28-year-old right back — a true star who emerged at the W19 EHF EURO 2013, where she was named the MVP, and went on to take the MVP title at the Rio 2016 and the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games — is finally back at the EHF FINAL4 after a four-year hiatus.
With the last of those years involving a total break from handball, Vyakhireva is now rejuvenated, has re-found the pleasure in playing and became the second top assist provider in this year’s EHF Champions League Women, with 76, while also boasting the best average number of assists per game, 5.85.
“Being here in Budapest is a dream for me and I'm really blessed to be here. For me it's a huge opportunity as well but all I want to do here is enjoy the moment, enjoy play, enjoy people around and just have the best time ever,” says Vyakhireva.
Indeed, the opportunity is big, but the pressure is also on Vipers’ shoulders, as the Norwegian team have a target on their backs after winning back-to-back titles in the past two seasons.
Ushering Vyakhireva into the squad has unlocked newfound potential, as the right back has been excellent this season, adding 73 goals to her assists tall and being key in her team’s success.
Vyakhireva was nominated in the Team of the Round four times in the group phase, underlining just how important she was for Vipers. She had stellar performances all season, including five games with at least seven goals scored.
I think we do not have to prove anything to anyone and we are just going all in for this weekend. We just want to show our best and do our best and see where that is going to bring us. I do not want to say that we are thinking about a win. But, of course, we want to win the title, yet it is a kind of step-by-step thing.
In fact, Vyakhireva’s maiden season at Vipers has been her best in terms of scoring in the premium European competition, and more is expected of her in Budapest, as the Norwegian side are eyeing a historic three-peat.
“I think we do not have to prove anything to anyone and we are just going all in for this weekend. We just want to show our best and do our best and see where that is going to bring us. I do not want to say that we are thinking about a win. But, of course, we want to win the title, yet it is a kind of step-by-step thing,” says the right back.
The first test for Vyakhireva and Vipers, the team with the lowest number of losses this season — only two in 16 games — will be a do-or-die clash in the semi-final against Györ, who want to avenge the loss in the final last season.
Cheered by thousands of fans, in what will be a totally green arena immersed in Hungarian fans, Györ will have an advantage in that area, but Vipers know a thing or two about winning titles. The maths was the same last season and the Norwegian side produced a flawless game to seal a 33:31 win.
This time around, Vipers will have Vyakhireva in the squad — a player with a unique skillset and an otherworldly handball IQ, doubled by speed and intuition. The combination can be impossible to stop at times.
“I am really getting chills, goosebumps over all my body, but I am trying not to think about it because it is a little bit early. There are plenty of hours before the match. Maybe on Saturday things will settle in and I am quite sure I am going to be shaking with emotion, but all in a good way. But yeah, now I am just trying to chill and enjoy being here and see all the people we haven't seen in many years,” says Vyakhireva, before the interview is briefly interrupted by Györ coach Ambros Martin.
A big smile appears again as Vyakhireva sees her former Rostov-Don coach, turned big rival for Saturday, as they two exchange some words just as the right back was talking about seeing people for the first time in years.
But all the talk about chilling and enjoying things will be of the past on Saturday, when the right back has the chance to earn another medal for her cabinet. Vyakhireva has been to the EHF FINAL4 twice — once losing in the final and once finishing fourth with her former side, Rostov.
Now, Vipers need to overcome sturdy challenges if they are to win the trophy.
“For me it's just another challenge in this season. It's going to be tough for sure. The team we are facing is so experienced and probably they really want to have revenge against Vipers. I think it's actually really fun for us and for the fans as well,” concludes Vyakhireva.