"We are ready for Budapest"Article
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FEATURE: Thüringer HC are close to the biggest international success ever of a German women’s handball club team

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"We are ready for Budapest"

Never before has a German club team qualified for a semi-final of the Women’s EHF Champions League. Only in the first two seasons – 1993/94 (TV Lützellinden) and 1994/95 (Walle Bremen) – have German sides been close to the finals, missing to clinch a berth for the pinnacle games only by goal difference.

Since the implementation of semi-finals in the Women’s EHF Champions League 1996/97 season no German side came so far, and when the current playing system was installed in the 2008/09 season, HC Leipzig made it to the main round twice, but did not gain a single point.

Everything changed with the 2013/14 season. Thüringer HC had luck on their side as they reached the main round, thanks to a better goal difference compared to Hypo Niederösterreich – but since the German champions arrived in this stage they have broken record after record.

Beating FC Midtjylland 26:24 meant the first points for a German women’s team in this stage and that was only the beginning for THC. After five matches, they top Group 1 with two wins against Sävehof and thrilling draw against Vardar Skopje last Saturday adding to their victory over FCM.

Even with seven points on their account and an unbeaten home record, Herbert Müller’s team have not yet qualified for the first Women’s EHF FINAL4 in Budapest on 3/4 May.

The constellation in this group is quite tricky before the crucial last matches. If Thüringer HC win, ties or lose their last match at FCM by a one-goal margin, the ticket to Budapest is secured. If FC Midtjylland win by two goals and THC score more than 24 goals, the German side are also through to Budapest. If they lose by three or more goals, they have to hope for Vardar to slip up against Sävehof and not win on home ground.

Missed opportunity

In Round 5 they had their fate already in their hands, playing a highly dominant final stage in the match against Vardar (24:24), but the draw was not enough to make Budapest a certainty.

“We gave one point away, but we still have our fate in our hands,” said top scorer Nadja Nadgornaja (seven goals).

She believes that: “after the performances we have shown in the main round, we fully deserve to be part of the FINAL4 in Budapest. If we do not have that icing of the cake, this season cannot be called a successful one.”

Anja Althaus was shattered after the match, as she missed the most decisive shot against her future club in the dying seconds: “I really feel sorry for my team. But we win as a team and we lose as a team. We still can make history – and we are ready for Budapest. This is our motto for the match in Denmark.”

Even a Dane is supporting the German side on Sunday: Danish born German women’s national team coach Heine Jensen, who attended the THC match against Vardar: “It would be a superb promotion for women’s handball in Germany if Thüringer HC proceed to the semi-final. This would boost our sport. I will definitely cross my fingers for this team, though they face a Danish team.”

Thüringer HC could have had reason to celebrate 24 hours after the unlucky draw against Vardar, when Sävehof hosted Midtjylland.

However, it was a German who kept the FCK dream of reaching the final weekend alive for the Danes With two crucial saves in the last minute goalkeeper, Sabine Englert prevented the Danish champions from elimination and rescued a 29:29 draw.

The success of this season so far was totally unexpected for the team currently running away with the German league.

Right after reaching the main round, their top player Kerstin Wohlbold suffered a cruciate ligament rupture at end of November and is out for the rest of season, as will Slovak international Lydia Jakubisova, who suffered the same sort of injury.

THC reacted by signing right wing Svenja Huber – a player, who had no international experience before, but became the rising star of her new team.

“It is the fighting spirit, which makes us strong and we always act as a team, never giving up, even if the deficit seems to be unreachable,” Nadgornaja said, explaing the strengths of Thüringer HC.

“You can never be sure that you have beaten them until the result is confirmed with the final whistle. They never give up, they go for all until the very end,” said Vardar star and current World Handball Player of the Year, Andrea Lekic, in praise.

As for coach Müller, he had mixed emotions on Saturday: “There’s nothing bigger, more thrilling and more spectacular than the Champions League,” he shouted to the more than 2,000 fans in the arena last weekend.

“On one hand I am proud of my team that we bridged the gap after going seven goals behind, on the other hand I am disappointed that we missed the great chance to book and early ticket to Budapest, but still anything is possible,” said a determined Müller.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor