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PREVIEW: EHF journalist Bence Marta looks ahead to the first MVM EHF FINAL4 in Budapest and analyses the relative strengths and weaknesses of the four competing sides

The time has finally come

Budapest, the crown jewel of Central Europe awaits, and the magnificent László Papp Arena is set to host the first MVM EHF FINAL4. The best of the best in women’s handball have taken to the starting grid and are eager to provide a feast for the eyes we have been longing to see.

The maiden edition of the MVM EHF FINAL4 will be the greatest spectacle women’s handball has ever seen and it is here for you to discover. Will it be…

The holders

It has got to be Győr with the home advantage on the holders’ side, their rock solid defence and the genius of top scorer Anita Görbicz, right? The unbeaten and unrivalled Hungarians play splendid handball under coach Ambros Martin and it’s been a year since they last tasted defeat.

But is a team that has lost so many finals which they arrived to as huge favourites. This happened so often, that even though they were the best team, it was a surprise they went all the way last year. This time, home court advantage, the grudging obligation of holders and sky-high expectations, put Győr under pressure of unprecedented proportions.

The bitter rivals

Then it must be Buducnost. The 2012 winners already snatched a draw in Hungary this year – mind you, in Győr not in Budapest – and apart from Milena Knezevic’s one-game suspension, Dragan Adzic will once again have the full squad at his disposal. If attack wins the battle, but defence wins the war, the wall of the Montenegrins should do the job in Budapest, right?

Well, considering the prospective hostile atmosphere and the fact that Buducnost will have two enormous mountains to climb in 24 hours and the first without their first choice playmaker, not so much. Not to mention they could not beat Győr in their last four encounters, losing three in the process.

Expect the unexpected

It’s Vardar then. Just look at the abundance of talent, experience and versatility in the Macedonian squad, led by current World Handball Player of the Year Andrea Lekic. Once a blink-and-you-miss-it dot on the handball landscape, Vardar became a European powerhouse as the pride of Skopje marched through their campaign with a single loss during the entire competition.

However, placing your bets on newcomers is not such a good idea, as winning a tournament like this requires not only strength, talent and capability but most of all cohesion, unity and mutual understanding of players that cannot be achieved in a single year.

The underdog

It’s going to be Midtjylland then. The Danes have the youngest and fastest squad of the four and both come handy when you play two games in 24 hours. In addition, Midtjylland sure have the strength that Vardar is lacking: all field players speak the same language, come from the same handball culture and know each other well. Consider the fact that Danish newcomers will be absolutely free from pressure and the wall in front of the splendid Sabine Englert has the capacity to outmanoeuvre, then outrun, any opponent and you have a surprise winner.

Hold on now, you cannot seriously think that a team with no considerable European experience and no world class shooters can challenge the best in the world, can you?

The finest seek ways

Well, that’s how easy it is to predict who will emerge as winners in Budapest. Odds mean nothing as the format is unknown to each and every team and there are a lot of decisive factors you cannot predict. The trophy is up for grabs and the finest of European women’s handball are present to figure out how to reach it. Is massive defending the key? Can shooting power win it? Or will it be all about running?

There are just too many questions the world of handball can hardly wait to learn the answers to. But for us supporters, journalists, fans, pundits and experts, the good news is that we can already take a few things  for granted. The scene is set, breathtakingly beautiful Budapest awaits all friends of handball. Teams are ready to provide us with the hardcore action we have been so hungry to consume.

The new format ensures we’ll get to see the cream of the crop, the very top of women’s handball. The winner will be undisputed champion. The one that endures the physical challenge formerly known only to the men in Cologne, the one that best combines strength with skill, stamina with talent and ambition with tactics.

More good news is that you can just sit back and enjoy all the above. Relax and get ready: top drawer handball action from Budapest will blow you away this weekend!