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EHF Champions League

Seven hot takes after a huge DELO EHF FINAL4

EHF / Courtney Gahan

New title holders, farewell to a superstar, and records, records, records: A two-year wait for the DELO EHF FINAL4 finally came to an end with the 2020/21 season culminating in a thrilling weekend flush with history.

Here, we take a look at the standout points surrounding the DELO EHF FINAL4 2021.

1. A decade-long wait sees title return to the north

At a certain point, the women’s EHF Champions League was dominated by Scandinavia — Denmark in particular. From 2003 to 2011, only Zvezda interrupted the period of dominance when they defeated Hypo to win the 2007/08 trophy.

Slagelse were the first Danish club to clinch the title, winning in 2003/04, 2004/05 and 2006/07. Viborg were next, earning the trophy in 2005/06, 2008/09 and 2009/10 — the latter two with Vipers keeper Katrine Lunde as part of the squad.

Then came Larvik, in 2010/11. And that was to be the last Scandinavian celebration for a decade, until the drought finally ended on Sunday in Budapest. Since Larvik’s triumph, the titles were won by Buducnost, Györ and CSM Bucuresti, keeping the trophy in the south — until now.

2. Three players clinch fifth title with third different club

Vipers were the only team alongside Györ to count past DELO EHF Champions League winners in their squad ahead of the DELO EHF FINAL4 2021 — and for three of the five, Sunday’s victory saw them take what was their fifth trophy with a third different club.

Lunde won with Danish club Viborg in 2009 and 2010, then with Györ in 2013 and 2014. Nora Mørk took her first trophy with Larvik in 2011, then added three straight titles with Györ, from 2017 to 2019. Heidi Løke was part of the winning Larvik squad in 2011, before also raising the trophy with Györ in 2013, 2014 and 2017.

The other two past winners were Jana Knedlikova, winner with Györ from 2017 to 2019, and Linn Jorum Sulland, winner with Larvik in 2011.

And there was one other past winner from Vipers prior to the 2020/21 title: All-star Team coach Ole Gjekstad. It was Gjekstad who led Larvik to the title in 2011, which was Norway’s first Champions League win. Between winning the two trophies, Gjekstad had a stint away from handball in insurance from 2015 before returning to helm the Vipers project in 2018 — in a very successful way it turns out. 

3. A historic season for France

Had Brest taken the title on Sunday, it would have been a huge achievement for not only the club, but French handball in general, as they would have joined EHF European League winners Nantes as the second club from the country to celebrate a European title in May.

However, it is still the most successful international season in history for French women’s clubs and the development is evident. When Metz reached the DELO EHF FINAL4 in 2019, they were the first French team to make it to the Champions League semi-finals. That season, no French club made it out of the group stage in the then second-tier competition, the EHF Cup.

Therefore, with one team in the Champions League final and one taking the EHF European League trophy, French have still seen their biggest year ever in 2020/21. And it is not over yet, with PSG and Nantes both set to fight for the men’s Champions League title in Cologne in early June.

4. First-time finalists clash for title

It has been some time since both teams battling for the DELO EHF Champions League trophy were first-time finalists — long before the DELO EHF FINAL4 format was introduced. In fact, it was precisely 10 years ago that this last occurred, when Larvik became the first Norwegian club to clinch the title after beating Spanish side SD Itxako in the 2010/11 final.

Since then, every final to decide the top-flight trophy until the 2020/21 edition featured at least one team that had played the ultimate game before.

5. Unstoppable Ana Gros and the next big superstar

Brest right back Ana Gros earned her first top scorer crown in the DELO EHF Champions League on Sunday, with a total of 135 goals in 2020/21. The incredible tally from Gros positions her as not only the top scorer of 2020/21 but represents one of the highest number of goals from one player in one season.

It was Gros’ final season in France after stints with both Metz and Brest. She will join CSKA for 2021/22.

Gros was the top scorer of the season, but not of the weekend — that honour went to the MVP of the event, Henny Reistad. With a startling rise from being named All-star Team best young player on Friday, Reistad headlined the weekend with her leadership for Vipers and many goals. She is the youngest MVP in the history of the DELO EHF FINAL4 and the second straight Norwegian after Kari Grimsbø earned the honours in 2019.

6. A semi-final for the history books

Saturday’s semi-final between Györ and Brest was the first ever at the DELO EHF FINAL4 to be decided with a penalty shoot-out. Once before, the semi-final went to extra time, when Buducnost beat Vardar at the first edition in 2013/14.

It was the second penalty shoot-out in history at the DELO EHF FINAL4, after the 2015/16 final won by CSM Bucuresti, and the first in the penultimate stage at the event. Both times, Györ were one of the teams taking part — and both times, the Hungarian powerhouse lost.

One player featured in both shoot-outs: Brest’s Isabelle Gulldén, who remained calm and collected as she netted the deciding penalty for the French side to reach their first final.

7. ‘Queen of handball’ says goodbye with new milestone

After five trophies, more than 1,000 goals in the DELO EHF Champions League, two season top scorer crowns and one All-star Team nod, Györ legend Anita Görbicz played her last game in the top flight on Sunday. And the centre back turned left wing in recent years capped it all with another big milestone: equalling her former teammate Nycke Groot’s record for most goals scored at the DELO EHF FINAL4, with 57.

Görbicz was not the only big goodbye, with Eduarda Amorim, who also claimed all five trophies with Györ, farewelled the Hungarian club after 12 years. The 34-year-old will move to Rostov-Don for next season.

Amorim also climbed the all-time top scorer standings at the pinnacle weekend in the 2020/21 season conclusion, moving from fifth before the semi-final against Brest up to fourth, with now 50 goals at the event. Görbicz was in third position before the DELO EHF FINAL4 2021 began.

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