Whom the gods would destroyArticle
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BLOG: As we enter the first knockout round of this season's VELUX EHF Champions League, Tom ponders Veszprém's ability to rise to the occasion in big games, beginning with a trip to tricky Plock

Whom the gods would destroy

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad” spoke Prometheus in Longfellow's poem The Masque of Pandora. It could have been written for Veszprém in last season’s VELUX EHF Champions’ league, as they were narrowly defeated by Kiel, over two legs, by a goal in each game. The vitriol that emanated, post tie, from players and fans alike, was a sea of pain, as once again they found themselves out in the Champions League wilderness after what had been a tremendous run to that point.

It remains their “Holy Grail”. The Hungarian league has become a cakewalk for them and only a seat at the high table of Europe is a metre stick for success for them now. The old quotation this season could be amended to:

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first oversell”.

The group win was achieved this year, as it had been last and Veszprém are once again “favourites” in the minds of pundits, fans and players alike. The hype that surrounds the team is in no small part due to the signing of Momir Ilic and he has been instrumental in the team assuming a favourites’ tag. Whereas once the focus was on Nagy alone, the spearhead of Ilic, Chema and Nagy is one to be feared.

But again, I refer back to my quotation. Have they been oversold? There is always a danger, particularly for a team that has choked at so many vital stages in the past, that their history is a millstone, that it comes back to haunt them. The assumption that you should win, is always a dangerous premise. Firstly, it puts undue pressure on the team and secondly it lifts the pressure on the opposition.

The opposition in question, this week is Orlen Wisla Plock. By no means the finished article, they have among their numbers some serious players. Nenadic is not Chema, but he is very good. If Jurkiewicz is fit then he is a match for anyone and finally Lijewski, reaching the twilight of a long and distinguished career, might just have two big games left in the tank. Montoro has had more time to work with the coach and if he can replicate his form, from the Atletico Madrid game last season, then he could be a threat.

The problem with this Plock team is that you don’t know which team will turn up. If it’s the team that played Kielce then sit back Veszprém fans and watch a cricket score. If it’s the team that lost narrowly to Kiel and Kolding then it could be another story.

This is, in cricket parlance, “a sticky wicket” for Veszprem. In other words, it’s a banana skin. They did themselves no favours when they lost away to the “Zappers”. Losing a game is not what potential champions do. If they “took it easy”, then it’s difficult to turn it on again; and if they lost against an inferior team, then psychologically it is damaging.

Even Laszlo Nagy, in his blog for ehfCL.com, spoke about the need to be 100% focused for this game. Hyperbole is rife in sport and most people might be forgiven for think that Laszlo is indulging in it a little. Most of us believe that even on their best day, Plock is no match for this Veszprém team. But actually in this case I believe Laszlo to be right. Plock can cause an upset, because they never quit. And this could be the narrow margin that they need to take a lead to Veszprém. Once there, they will probably lose, but if the crowd in Hungary gets impatient, then who knows.

The feeling in Europe is that we would love to see Veszprém in Cologne. Their fans deserve it; the club tradition (amidst all the financial collapse) deserves it. And the team that Ortega has built deserves it too. There are too many stars in the Veszprém firmament to countenance them not making it.

Blue meets red. Two primary colours! In sports, colour can be quite defining. Colour psychology says that red is dynamic movement, that it’s energetic, that it’s got an internal engine. Blue on the other hand is passive with no momentum and no energy. We expect nothing of blue. If this is the case then, red should always trump blue. Veszprem should always beat Plock.

But like I said, it’s a bit of a banana skin. Veszprem might be a little off-colour and Plock could do something “out of the blue”.

Watch the ehfTV.com Match of the Week live on Sunday, 23 March at 19:00 CET here.

TEXT: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehfTV commentator