European Cup victory brings hope to Turkish handball fans

Fulya Öktem

Being the "first Turkish team to ever win a European cup in handball" was the headline of the day for Antalya Konyaalti BSK on Monday. Their strong comeback from a six-goal deficit in the first leg of the EHF European Cup Women final against Club Balonmán Atlético Guardes may be the highlight of the season.

But it was also notable that Türkiye’s first European handball champion is a women's team. Captain Yasemin Şahin devoted the cup to Turkish women.

"Our first cup in three years is a European cup. We broke new ground for Turkish handball, my friends gave everything they got; we played amazing.

"May the cup be a gift to all Turkish women. I think we crossed the fear wall. In the past, we were the ones who lost the finals. From now on, no one will think they can beat Turkish teams in Turkey anymore", said the captain.

It is hard for any team to keep their spirits alive after suffering a defeat like the one Konyaalti had in Spain. But the team from Antalya worked with determination, studying the tactical solutions over and over again and never losing focus, neither during their preparation week nor in the final match.

Konyaalti made history, and the first-ever European title can pave the way for the development the Turkish handball community has needed for a long time. Drawing the attention of the press, being visible, and attracting investment are some of the advantages. The EHF European Cup championship may bring Turkish women’s handball many unforeseen benefits in the future.

Left wing Elif Sila Aydin said they started the game with confidence and great anticipation that they would be the winners.

“Being at home, in front of our audience, was the biggest advantage. We were motivated, confident. We displayed all our tactics on the court," she said. 

Aydin also congratulated their rivals and said the European Cup title had a lot more meaning than one might think.

“It’s Türkiye’s first European trophy at club level. For years, Turkish handball clubs been struggling to get a title in Europe. I'm happy and proud to be a part of this success. We won the third-tier European Cup and we’ll continue to work to thrive in upper levels," Aydin added.

Left back Alena Ikhneva, who scored five goals from six attempts in the final, played a crucial role in the EHF European Cup campaign throughout the season, scoring 70 goals in 10 matches to finish as the joint top scorer in the competition. She said motivation and focus were the keys to the team's success in the final match.

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We played with full motivation and heart. Every player did a very good job from the first moment to the last. We displayed good teamwork. Our goalkeeper Sevilay stood like a wall. I’m pretty sure that if we played like this at the first match we would have won that, too. I’m proud of my team and happy that the cup stayed at Antalya.
Alena Ikhneva
Antalya Konyaalti BSK left back

Line player Ivana Gakidova contributed four goals in her team's victory, and afterwards she said her team "played as one mind" and that everyone did their best, from the coaches to the players. "A 13-goal win - my girls made it look so easy," she added.

Right back Sanja Premovic scored nine goals to become top scorer in the game. While she was proud and happy about breaking new ground for Turkish handball, she did not mince words about the performance in the first leg, saying, "we played the worst game of the season in the first leg of the final, and the best game in the second."

While all the players mentioned focusing and team play as the foundation to their success, head coach Birol Ünsal is simply ‘happy’ with the outcome. Thanking his players with tears in his eyes, Ünsal said the dream of his 40-year handball career has come true.

“Turkish handball needed this kind of success. I hope this title will be a start for better days in Turkish handball,” Ünsal said. As one of Türkiye’s most popular vacation destinations, Antalya could be a centre of handball, he emphasised.

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