Leganger: Tough group was an advantage for usArticle
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INTERVIEW: The Norwegian goalkeeper, who joined Slagelse just before they reclaimed the EHF Champions League trophy in 2004/05, is the next part of legends series on ehfCL.com.

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Leganger: Tough group was an advantage for us

If you ask Cecilie Leganger why Slagelse FH won the Women's EHF Champions League for the second time in succession in the 2004/05 season, the goalkeeper, who was seen as the best in the world for many years, does not have to think long to find the explanation to the triumph. The triumph which was her own first Champions League win with the Danish team who defeated Kometal D. P. Skopje 27:23 at home and 27:20 away in the final.

“The first season we won the Champions League with Slagelse was a confirmation of something I have been claiming and stating for a long time.

“It is a great advantage to a team to be in a tough group with the best teams of the tournament already in the group phase.

“I remember the start to the Champions League that season, where we ended up in a group with exactly Kometal Skopje and lost one of the matches (20:12 in Skopje)

“It is obvious that a team who wants to go all the way can learn a lot from being in that situation. I am proud of having been part of a Slagelse environment who stood for and did exactly that. Winning culture put into practice. The defeat in the group phase was hard to swallow, but we used the match and our experience from it with great humility on our way further to the final.

“Therefore, it was a great advantage to Slagelse to meet Kometal Skopje again, this time in Champions League final, knowing the atmosphere and the environment which would be meeting us in (FYR) Macedonia.

“Skopje had the home advantage in the last match, and the Balkan audience is known for its extreme and merciless patriotism.

“When we entered the court to warm up, the hall was already completely full. We were met by a wall of sound and unfriendly gestures. We had learned our lesson from the match in the group phase, though. We had a strong will to win in the team. Just as strong as by the enthusiastic spectators from the Balkan.

“As the game progressed, we got a grip on things. In the goal, in the defence and in the attack. The intense sound wave was silenced. After a while came the first careful applause to our fine performance.

“Apart from gold, glitter, champagne and the big cup, that applause from the enthusiastic crowd with more than average handball knowledge is what I remember best from the final. That applause is in accordance with the spirit and the good intensions,” finds Cecilie Leganger.

Joining an extreme winning culture

Back then, in 2005, at the age of 30, she was already at her peak as goalkeeper. Actually, she had been for a while already, and as soon as in 2001, she was awarded World Handball Player of the Year.

However, the Champions League trophy was still missing in her collection.

As late as the year before, she had been in the final with Krim Ljubljana who lost to no other opponent than Slagelse whom she joined in the summer of 2004.

“I joined a more extreme winning culture. Apart from the fact that I was being teased with the final of the previous season at every meeting in the squad, I felt almost as if I had come home.

“At extreme hilarity in the entire group, they showed the video clips of their goals and of my despair they entered the goals from that final again and again. This gave me a strong motivation to give them some other pictures to enjoy on the next occasion,” recalls Cecilie Leganger who is not in doubt why Slagelse were so successful in those years.

“It was due to the winning culture I mentioned which was created in a safe, but competitive environment, combined with some very good players and a work leader (head coach Anja Andersen) who understood the mix of security, well-being and challenge. That is the mix which creates development.”

The latest victory is always the greatest

She went on to win the Women's EHF Champions League once more with Slagelse in 2007, and then with Larvik in 2011, her first season after returning home to Norway.

Some say that the first time is always the best, but Cecilie Leganger does not necessarily see it that way.

“It is impossible to rate triumphs. Of course, all of them are good and great experiences which you have been fighting hard for. Each time I win, I feel that that victory is the greatest. That is a big part of my motivation. I suppose it is the same way for most people, or?  The day, when “do you remember” becomes the best part of your story, your motivation is probably going downhill.”

Her own motivation does definitely not seem to be going downhill.

At the age of 39, she is still hoping to play at the Women's EHF FINAL4 which is taking place for the first time this season.

She and her teammates in Larvik missed the opportunity this season, but the experienced goalkeeper has not given up on reaching the FINAL4 in the future.

“I both hope and believe it, and the fact that this opportunity exists, is an important part of my motivation,” Cecilie Leganger says.

TEXT: Peter Bruun / br