Countdown: Checking in on the DELO EHF FINAL4 teams
Only one month separates the four teams remaining teams in the DELO EHF Champions League from their biggest dream this season: the DELO EHF FINAL4 in Budapest. Four matches in two days will generate adrenaline, passion and excitement in Papp Laszlo Sportarena, but there can be only one winner.
With 30 days to go, we take a sneak peek at the four teams competing for the trophy this season, as CSKA, Györi Audi ETO KC, Brest Bretagne Handball and Vipers Kristiansand gear up for the final weekend of the DELO EHF Champions League.
Brest Bretagne Handball: All eyes on a sweet farewell
Brest have established themselves as the team to beat in France, with a superb aggregate win against Metz in the quarter-finals.
Facing reigning champions Győr in the semi-finals will not be an easy task for the French side, but Brest have given the Hungarian powerhouse a run for their money in the past, drawing three of the last four games and losing only once, by the slightest of margins, 29:28.
Brest were back in the French domestic league this week, taking a 26:24 win in the play-offs against Chambray and an eye on their second title after the one won in 2012, whilst also securing a French Cup final berth last weekend with a 29:23 win in the semi-final against rivals Metz.
Coach Laurent Bezeau will say his goodbye after an eight-year stint on Brest’s bench following the DELO EHF FINAL4 in Budapest. The DELO EHF FINAL4 will also see the last European competition matches with Brest for the top goal scorer of the Champions League 2020/21, Ana Gros, as she will move to CSKA next summer.
Brest are still brimming with confidence, despite missing left back Kalidiatou Niakate due to a season-ending injury suffered against Metz in the quarter-finals
CSKA: the rookies who defied all odds
It was a season full of ups and downs for the Russian team, who are aiming to become one of the teams to beat in the next seasons in the DELO EHF Champions League. CSKA made a tough choice to replace Danish coach Jan Leslie, who spearheaded the project since 2019, after progressing to the quarter-finals with a narrow win against RK Krim Mercator.
His assistant, former left back Olga Akopian, took charge, and led the Russian team to their maiden DELO EHF FINAL4 berth. A name to watch as a coach in the future, Akopian was a gold medallist at both the IHF Women’s World Championship and the Olympic Games, having represented Russia between 2005 and 2016, and took part in the DELO EHF FINAL4 once as a player while plying her trade for Dinamo Volgograd between 2002 and 2015.
While Akopian has little experience as a head coach, her handball IQ is next to none and could prove crucial for CSKA.
Facing Vipers in the semi-final, CSKA will still miss influential left back Elena Mikhaylichenko, who suffered a season-ending injury in November, but otherwise the side boasts a clean bill of health across the board.
Following up on the superb quarter-final win against CSM Bucuresti, CSKA will fight for the Russian league title right before the DELO EHF FINAL4, with a final against rivals Rostov-Don on the cards.
Györi Audi ETO KC: A five-peat in Budapest?
A 55-game unbeaten streak is unprecedented in the DELO EHF Champions League and Györ will be gunning to extend it in Budapest, as a chapter closes for the Hungarian team, with Eduarda Amorim moving to Rostov-Don and Anita Görbicz putting an end to her playing career.
Györ once again look to be the team to beat, with their record in the DELO EHF FINAL4 nothing short of superb: four trophy wins in five appearances in Budapest. The team are healthy, with no major injuries derailing their season, and boast the most effective attack in the competition, with an average of 32.7 goals scored per game.
They were also back in the Hungarian Cup this week, with a commanding 37:27 victory against MTK Budapest. With two recent wins against Erd (38:26) and Siofok (44:24), Györ are also on their way to their league 12 title in the last 14 seasons. They have five more games before the DELO EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, including their clash against arch-rivals FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria on 5 May.
The culmination of the season will also see Gabor Danyi’s last games for Györ, with the Hungarian coach moving to Siófok KC next summer.
Vipers Kristiansand: Back on track after an overwhelming season
A club record seven-game unbeaten streak in the DELO EHF Champions League was followed by painful losses, as Vipers skidded down the standings in the group phase to set up crucial clashes against Odense and Rostov-Don on their way to the DELO EHF FINAL4. Two wins, one draw and one loss later, the Norwegian side are back in Budapest for the second time in three years.
With major changes set in motion prior to the summer, with six players leaving and five coming in, it will be the last hurrah for Ole Gustav Gjekstad’s side in this current iteration — and all eyes are set firmly on reaching the final, which would mark the biggest achievement for the Norwegian side in European competitions.
“It is incredibly rewarding to reach the DELO EHF FINAL4. It is especially rewarding as we have played 13 away games this season. But now it’s all about the next goal — namely, to reach the final,” said Gjekstad.
With influential right back Nora Mørk and line player Heidi Loke back in the fold after injuries, Vipers look back at their best, but their lack of competitive games might be a serious issue coming into Budapest.
As the current health situation forced the games in the Norwegian league to be cancelled, Vipers are likely to have just one game prior to the DELO EHF FINAL4: the Norwegian Cup final against Sola, set for either 15 or 22/23 May. The Norwegian League finals date against Storhamar is still to be decided.