Lekic: “A lot of work and discipline inside these 1,000 goals”
Jovanka Radicevic, Cristina Neagu, and Anita Görbicz — a list of legends who form a very small club at the top of the EHF Champions League Women: Those who have passed the 1,000-goal mark in the competition. And last Sunday, a new name joined the list, as Andrea Lekic netted her 1,000th EHF Champions League goal.
“I’m grateful and proud at the same time, and also thankful, because it’s a long-lasting thing. A lot of work and discipline is inside of these 1,000 goals, and a lot of teamwork, so I’m especially also thankful to my teammates and coaches from the past and now who also helped me to achieve this goal. It’s really beautiful,” says Andrea Lekic, who reached the milestone playing with FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria in what is her 17th season in the top-flight competition.
Her 1,000th goal was the fifth of seven she scored in total in FTC’s 35:23 win at MKS Zaglebie Lubin.
“It’s just stunning when you’re leaving your, let’s say, mark in the history of handball.”
Although the milestone is a meaningful mark in the careers of all the players in the 1,000 club, highlighting the consistency and long-term dedication and high level of the four who have achieved it, it is not something they are aware of until they near the mark and start to hear from others.
“That number, it just goes automatically by years. If you are stubborn enough to work a lot, then you stay in this sport, then you are getting closer to some limits,” says Lekic, who played alongside all three of the other players who have reached the milestone — Radicevic at Györ, Vardar, CSM and Buducnost; Neagu at CSM; and Görbicz at Györ. It was alongside Radicevic and Görbicz that Lekic won the title, in 2013 — Györ’s first of now five.
“It’s more than privilege,” says Lekic of the fact she shared jerseys with her three 1,000 goal clubmates. “Through my whole career, I really played with the best handball players in the world. They also contributed to this, my score, so it’s really amazing.
“I can just say a ton of compliments [about them]. Those are the players which invested a lot in themselves during their careers.”
Now on 1,002 goals, including 51 this season, does Lekic remember the very first time she hit the back of the net in the EHF Champions League? It was a game against Swedish side IK Sävehof, which Krim won 31:30 in the 2007/08 group phase. A then 20-year-old Lekic scored three goals towards the victory for the Slovenian club.
“I was super excited that I was starting to play Champions League,” recalls Lekic. “I cannot exactly remember how the goal looked.”
Since then, there have been many memorable goals within the 1,000 that have brought Lekic to a new place in the history books.
“Winning the Champions League trophy with Györ in 2013 were of course some of my favourite goals, in the semi-finals and finals,” says Lekic. “Also last year here at Ferencváros, contributing to the team to qualify for the first time in history for the [EHF] FINAL4. So those are the really memorable goals for me.”
Lekic may not remember all the specifics, but she knows a good portion of her count towards 1,000 came during her memorable time playing for Vardar. In the five seasons with the Macedonian side, during which she reached the EHF Champions League final twice, the total was 341.
“I like attractive goals, so maybe also one from the final against Györ, playing for Vardar — a spin shot. Maybe that was one of my favourites because of the moment when it was made.”
Lekic’s shooting repertoire is certainly not limited, but she confirms she does like goals with a bit of spectacle the most. “This brings special joy, also for the audience, and I think this is the beauty of handball — that you can do a lot of interesting things like this.”
A lot of goals of her own, but what about goals scored by her teammates that stand out in Lekic’s memory of her EHF Champions League career? One recent goal stands out quite clearly: Emily Bölk’s last-second strike in the semi-final to take FTC to the final at the end of last season.
“This is one which I’m going to remember forever,” says Lekic, before recalling one scored by none other than Radicevic in the 2012/13 semi-final with Györ. “We played the semi-final against Valcea. I think I shot on goal, something like this, then I think the goalkeeper saved and the ball bounced back to Jovanka. So that was one of the crucial goals, how we achieved to qualify for the finals, in 2013. That was also some kind of memorable goal for me because it was really of high importance for the team in that moment.”
I would always dare to shoot. I will always take the responsibility to shoot in the hardest moment. Win it or not, I think it’s important to have this determination to decide a game.
Many goals scored, but that also takes a lot of missed chances, as the famous quote from basketball legend Michael Jordan goes: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games… I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Lekic is familiar with the iconic quote “of course” — so what does she think about missed chances?
“You learn a lot from lost matches, so I think I learned a lot from missed shots — like Jordan said. You need to dare to try. You cannot score every time; you have to be aware you cannot score every time. You just have to believe in yourself. This is something that comes with the years, building yourself up to the matches,” says Lekic.
“You have to be honest with yourself on the point that you’re ready to miss the shot and what’s going to be after that. I think fear is just limiting us in that point of view and with the years you realise it’s a completely not realistic thing. Fear is just making things much, much harder. When I look myself in the mirror, when I go to a match, it’s important for me that I give everything, and I was not afraid to try.”
That quality of daring and delivering in the critical moments, especially at the end of a match, is an important one for the players that become heroes for their teams. The missed shots have their value in reaching that point and being able to score in crunch time, as Lekic knows well.
“My self-criticism was much on the higher point before and that was not that good, indeed, because it was too much. And then after, with years, you understand,” says Lekic, emphasising the importance of being willing to shoot in the critical moment.
“I would always dare to shoot. I will always take the responsibility to shoot in the hardest moment. Win it or not, I think it’s important to have this determination to decide a game.”
Turning to a different kind of goal, Lekic hopes for a similar end to this EHF Champions League season as the last, when FTC made their debut at the EHF FINAL4 and played the final. It has been a tough start to the season for FTC, with three wins, one draw and four losses so far, placing them sixth on the group B table going as the competition heads into a seven-week break until play resumes in January.
“We want to do the same thing here like we did last year, even though we didn’t start very well the season. The Champions League is completely unpredictable. When I remember all the ups and downs in my career, I just always think that everything is possible and reachable. We are really getting well now, getting better in shape, so I really hope that we are gonna make Budapest and Hungary happy again.
photography © 2023 Szilvia Micheller