Popovic: We were a very powerful teamArticle
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FEATURE: Arguably the best player since the turn of the century shares her memories of the EHF Champions League winning team of 2006/07, Slagelse, one of her many in a trophy-laden career

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Popovic: We were a very powerful team

If you want to win the EHF Champions League trophy, Bojana Popovic was a must have for your team. Slagelse, Viborg and Buducnost can attest to that.

The Montenegrin handball star, considered by many the best female handball player in 21st Century, despite not being given any official recognition, is a six-time EHF Champions League winner from 2004 to 2012, with three different clubs – Slagelse three times (2004, 2005, 2007), Viborg twice (2009, 2010) and finally with Buducnost (2012).

Popovic won the last EHF Champions League title with Slagelse in 2006/07, probably in the best season with the team led by Anja Andersen.

In that season, Slagelse had a slow start in group phase, with three victories and three defeats in a group with Hypo Niederösterreich, FTC Budapest and Kometal Gjorce Petrov. However, that was enough to be second in the group and secure a place in the quarter-finals.

From there Slagelse showed their power, first beating Krim Mercator twice (30:23, 28:26), then Györi Audi ETO KC in the semi-finals (31:25, 30:22), and finally Lada Togliatti in the final.

The first game in Russia finished with a draw (29:29), but in Copenhagen there were no worries in a 32:24 win.

”That title was easily won, as we were a very powerful team. We were dominating our opponents not only with our handball, but also mentally, by playing even better away than at home.

“At the time Krim Mercator was a very strong team, while Györi Audi ETO KC, in my opinion, was perhaps stronger than today.

“Before the first leg, Carmen Lungu (Romanian backcourt player of Slagelse) was not permitted to enter Russia upon arrival because of entry formalities, and she didn’t play that game.

“Since we didn’t have many backcourt players, I think I had to shoot at least 30 times.

“But, after a draw in Russia, with Carmen Lungu back in the team, we easily won in the second leg, in Copenhagen,” Popovic told ehfCL.com.

Popovic scored 18 goals in the final two games (13 and 5), bringing her total to 96 in the competition and made her the top scorer.

“It was a good season for me, but also for the whole team. We played great defence and attack as a team and we feared no one.

“We were together for the fifth consecutive year and just a look was enough to understand each other,” explained the left back.

The second game with Lada Togliatti was very emotional for Popovic, because it was the last one with Slagelse, where she spent five seasons, wining also EHF Cup (2003), three Danish Championship titles (2003, 2005, 2007) and one Danish cup (2003).

While playing for Slagelse, Popović was voted Player of the Year in Denmark in 2004, 2005 and 2007, mainly for her contributions to the EHF Champions League victories by Slagelse in those years.

She also finished as the competition’s top scorer in 2004 (98 goals) and 2005 (85 goals, together with Tatjana Logvin), and Danish League’s top scorer in 2004 (219 goals) and 2005 (222 goals). Apart two more EHF Champions League titles, with Viborg she later added three more Danish Championship titles (2008, 2009, 2010), two Danish Cup trophies (2007, 2008) and also was voted Player of the Year in Denmark in 2008.

"That year, in January I knew that I was going to leave Slagelse at the end of season and move to Viborg. But I wanted to finish the season well. I remember lot of emotion, tears.

“In the first half, I practically could not concentrate and play handball normally. At half-time, Anja Andersen asked me if I want to play the final or just watch the game pass by me. In the second half, I woke up.” said Bojana, for whom Anja Anderson was a key figure in all Slagelse successes.

“There were a lot of different profiles in the team, different characters, a lot of stars, where each player thinks she’s the most important one.

“That was the hardest to fit in. It's pretty much the main coaching job. Anja Andersen knew perfectly to do that. We trained very well, but also hung out a lot off the court, enjoying a great atmosphere.

“Even today we're still good friends, we talk often, we support each other. We created a true friendship.”

After a sixth title with Buducnost in 2012 and 2012 Olympic Games in London, where she won the silver medal with Montenegro, Bojana Popovic decided to end her great playing career, and start a new one as Buducnost’s sports director.

She also wanted to become a mother in December of this year, giving birth to daughter Lea: “I quite quickly realised the dream of becoming a mother. The birth of Lea is the greatest victory in my life.”

At the MVM EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, Popovic has a chance to win her first trophy as a sports director, but first up is Vardar in the semi-final.

“Vardar is a new team. They brought in a lot of stars last summer. They have quality players, but so do we. I think we have the quality to go all the way, I believe in our team,” concluded the 34-year-old.

TEXT: Saša Jončić / cor