Uncharted waters to be used as motivation for Györ
The bar has been set so high by Györi Audi ETO KC in the past few seasons that everybody seems to write off the Hungarian champions when they finally lose some games in the group phase.
Indeed, this season has been far from a vintage one from the most decorated team in the history of the EHF Champions League Women. Györ have already lost three matches, the same number as in the previous four seasons combined.
Now, Ambros Martin’s side face a must-win Match of the Week in the last round of the group phase of the European premium competition against Team Esbjerg, with the winners earning safe passage to the quarter-finals in the form of a second-place finish in the group.
Yet Györ are undeterred and pride themselves on the standards they are held to due to their excellent performances in the past seasons.
”We may be a victim of our results in the past years, but it is also a motivation, a very good reason to stand up and try to play the best we can and deliver some good games in the second part of the season,” says left back Anne Mette Hansen, one of the longest-tenured players at Györ in her sixth season.
Last season, the Hungarian powerhouse lost only one game on their way to the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, only to concede a 31:33 loss in the final against Vipers Kristiansand. Two seasons ago, their only loss came in the semi-final against Brest Bretagne Handball in Budapest, and they finished third overall.
The current season’s results show a different side to Györ from the juggernaut which set the all-time record for an unbeaten streak in the EHF Champions League Women – 55 games between February 2018 and April 2021. But was it time for a change in the way the team builds through the season?
“One might think so, yes, it is very important to hit the right form at the end of the season, so this season is a bit different for us. But even when we did not click on the court and we failed to produce a good game, we were close to winning against Rapid and Metz, therefore I think we are still a very good side,” says Hansen.
“Last season, we lost a single game on the way to the final, but we did not win the trophy, so we learnt something about that and we will try to apply this in the last matches of the season.”
The round 3 loss against Metz was the first in more than seven years in the EHF Champions League Women on their home court for Györ. Their defensive fragility has been well-documented, with cracks beginning to appear since the start of the season, something unexpected for a team led by Ambros Martin.
However, there is still plenty of experience on Györ’s side, with the likes of Hansen, centre backs Stine Oftedal and Estelle Nze Minko, or goalkeeper Sandra Toft knowing a thing or two about playing under pressure.
The pressure will come in waves during the last round of the group phase. Esbjerg are the top attack in the competition, with 427 goals scored in the first 13 matches. Györ’s opponents also boast two scoring machines in Norwegian pair Henny Reistad and Nora Mørk, who have combined for 137 goals this season and are virtually unstoppable when they click.
Right now, the two sides are tied at 20 points, with Györ second, but another home loss against Esbjerg would likely see the Hungarian side relegated to fourth place in the standings. It would also be their first four-loss season since 2011/12, when they finished as the runners-up in the European premium competition.
“It is always nice and exciting to play these types of matches, against strong opposition, because you really find out where you are in terms of performance and what needs to be improved,” says Hansen.
“Of course, from a physical standpoint, it is crucial for us to reach the quarter-finals, because there are two games less in a very packed season. It would hand us some rest and peace to prepare for the final part of the season, the most important one, as we have seen time and time again,” she adds.
For Hansen, who has been sporting the green-and-white Györ shirt since 2017, these are the last months at the Hungarian side. She has already agreed to move to Metz this summer.
Hansen says this is motivation to finish her stint at Györ on a high, irrespective of the hit-and-miss nature of the season.
“Another title, my third with Györ, would be a dream come true and an excellent ending to an outstanding adventure,” concludes Hansen.
But it all starts with the final Match of the Week in the group phase, which is likely to produce some fireworks and decide the path of the season for both sides.
Photos © nhcfoto.dk, Aniko Kovacs