One stunner and one defence battle, Jurack predictsArticle
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EHF expert Grit Jurack looks ahead upon the semi-finals of the Women’s EHF Champions League and summarizes the Main Round.

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One stunner and one defence battle, Jurack predicts

Since the start of this season, Grit Jurack is the official EHF expert for the Women’s EHF Champions League. The German right back, three times winner of the competition with Danish side Viborg HK, exclusively summarizes the Main Round and gives her personal prediction for the semi-final pairings Oltchim Vâlcea vs. Györi Audi ETO KC and Larvik HK vs RK Krim Mercator in this blog – and additionally relives the emotions of her three finals against three teams involved in the semis of the current season.

Grit Jurack is the German record international and record goal scorer with the national team and quit her career in 2012. Jurack also had been among the EHF experts for the 2012 Women’s EHF EURO in Serbia.

... on the Main Round

Group 1:
Although Györ was and is one of my personal favourites for the trophy, they really impressed me by an overall of twelve victories in twelve matches, including their six mostly clear wins in the Main Round.

Their team is well-balanced, which is the key for success. In contrast to other opponents, they can rotate on highest level without losing any quality. 24 points in the two stages of the Women’s EHF Champions League are a real hammer! I thought – for example - that it would be harder for them to beat Larvik in Norway in the Main Round.

Another surprise is that Larvik year by year are among the semi-finalists, although they do not have the strongest positional attack. They just can count on a real strong defence including top goalkeepers and their famous counter-attacks. Especially both victories against defending champions Budućnost Podgorica surprised me.

The Montenegrin champions had lost some important players, but I had expected them stronger. In my opinion they had lost too much power playing also in the regional league. In general their potential is not worse compared to Larvik, but the Norwegian title holders had more power and experience to proceed to the semi-finals. Looking upon Danish side Randers HK it was clear that they were weaker than the rest.

Group 2:
In contrast to clear Group 1, the second quartet of the main round was a real hammer for me. All four teams had the chance to proceed – and I really had expected FTC and Vâlcea to go on to the semi-finals.

But Krim finally had a real strong squad, they were well-rehearsed compared to the start of the season, and they could count on a strong defence block including Andrea Penezić, Nina Wörz or Linnea Torstensson. Krim have improved from match to match and in the crucial moments they did a perfect job, made the big points and kept calm thanks to their experience.
In contrast, FTC lost their nerves in the final three matches after a perfect start. I don’t know why they could not stand the pressure and the stress, because they also have some really experienced players in their team.

Oltchim Vâlcea is a very difficult story due to the financial problems and the loss of some key players during the season due to those problems. But still the Romanian champions have the best of all squads despite the internal turbulences.

In my opinion it is all a matter of psychology: From a certain point on, the players realized that they do not only play for money, but for the joy, the success and their personal improvement. And my former coach Jakob Vestergaard found the right way to motivate them to return on the winner’s path. And everybody in the club has understood that success will open new sources of finance.

So despite all circumstances they managed it well-deservedly to the semi-finals in this completely equal group, in which even Zvezda Zvenigorod could have made it to the next stage, but then failed against top opponents.
Oltchim Vâlcea vs. Audi ETO Györ:

... on the semi-finals

Oltchim Vâlcea vs Györi Audi ETO KC
Simply the stunner of this competition! I had expected this fixture at the EHF Champions League final, but Krim had an objection against it. I even believe that it is an advantage for Vâlcea not to face Larvik in their semis, as their “reverse gear” isn’t that good, what could be punished mercilessly by the speedy Larvik counter-attack specialists.

In my opinion Vâlcea can manage it to go to the finals concerning the field players, as in this comparison it is a 50-50 constellation. But if my former teammate Katrine Lunde in the Györ goal has a perfect day or two, the Romanian team are chanceless.

I really feel ambivalent, for whom I shall cross my fingers. On the one side I really hope that Katrine goes through and Györ could finish their never ending story of losing finals, but on the other hand, I hope for Jakob Vestergaard, as also Vâlcea would be a well-deserved finalist and even well-deserved winner of this top competition. The only thing I clearly predict is: The winner of this semi-final will raise the trophy in the end.

Larvik HK vs. Krim Mercator:
In this case my preference is clearly on the Krim side for my German country-fellows Nina Wörz (with whom I played at Leipzig) and Susann Müller (my successor at Leipzig) and additionally Linnea Torstensson, as I played at Viborg with her. Hopefully she can return for those crucial matches after her thump injury. In those duels I expect a 100 percent defence battle. Larvik have smaller but more movable players, but are better in counter-attacks.

Krim have a solid defence – and both sides have strong goalkeepers. If Krim play as they did in the Main Round, they are in the favourite role, but if Larvik overrun their opponent in the first leg by their counter-attacks, they will march through. But I cross fingers for Krim, as they would have deserved it to go through the finals after their long final absence.


…on my three Women’s EHF Champions League final victories:
2005/06: Viborg HK vs. Krim Mercator 24:22 away, 20:22 at home
I remember the re-match, as it was yesterday. Our goalkeeper Valerie Nicolas saved the final shot – and we won. I was proud to become the first German female player ever to win the EHF Champions League, but both matches were only a matter of nerves. We had won at Ljubljana, but the second leg (we played at Aarhus) was pure madness, as we were so close to lose this trophy. But at the end we managed to win our first trophy.

2008/09: Viborg HK vs. Györi AUDI ETO 24:26 at home, 26:23 away
We had to play the first leg at Aarhus and before the match we were walking through a zoo, what nobody of us really enjoyed. And later-on we played like we were still in the zoo, one of our worst matches ever. So we went to Veszprém where the re-match was played. Already one hour before the start the arena was overcrowded and so noisy. It was an incredible atmosphere, which caused goose bumps all over our bodies.

Györ missed so many penalty shots in this match, and we were closely ahead all the time. But until the final whistle nothing was decided. Györ received a direct free throw after the final whistle – and failed! We had beaten Györ in their cauldron, incredible! But even in the semi-final we experienced the same brilliant atmosphere you only can have in this part of Europe, when we played in Vâlcea. After winning by eight goals we got standing ovations by the Romanian spectators, I never felt like this before!

2009/10: Viborg HK vs. Oltchim Vâlcea 28:21 at home, 32:31 away
Three months before the finals I gave birth to my son, and already in the semis against Larvik I was on the court again – supposed to play some minutes, but in the end, it was 40, and I was even an awarded player of the match. The first leg was easy-going and we were even angry about us (and especially about Bojana Popović, who started to make fun on the court), that we did not even win by a clearer margin than “only” eight goals. In the end, I scored eleven goals in the re-match at Bucharest – and we celebrated the most relaxing of all Champions League titles. But for me personally there were different priorities from the day of my son’s birth on.

TEXT: Grit Jurack, three-time EHF Champions League winner