From minus 30 to the heat of the FINAL4Article
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FEATURE: Not only will this year’s MVM EHF FINAL4 be the first for Dinamo-Sinara, but the club’s Asma El Ghaoui will also be the first Tunisian, and African, ever to take part.
 

From minus 30 to the heat of the FINAL4

For Asma El Ghaoui, signing with Dinamo-Sinara – 5,000 kilometres from home – was one of the toughest decisions of her life.

"When I first received the club's proposition, I was a little bit reluctant," recalls the Tunisian line player. 

"When I arrived it was a massive shock. Nobody spoke English or French and we had two, sometimes three, trainings a day. It was a completely different culture and it took some time for me to adapt." 

But if those things were hard to take, one thing was even worse: 

"The weather. In Tunisia, when it's seven or eight degrees, everybody's freezing. Imagine how I was at the beginning of winter when I had to go to training when it was minus 30!" 

But it got better after a couple of months. 

"The Russian people are very welcoming in a way that can be surprising when you come from a different culture. They don't say much, but when they appreciate you, they do it 100%."

The underdogs overcome big teams

Though her everyday life was a bit of a struggle at first, the handball side was everything she expected.

"As soon as the Champions League started we found our feet. We won some big games, like against Leipzig and Krim Mercator," explains the 23-year-old. 

"We certainly benefitted from the fact that nobody believed we could make it. Dinamo-Sinara is playing Champions League for the first time and we are a bunch of young players – our opponents maybe overlooked us a bit." 

After making it to the main round, Dinamo qualified for the quarter-finals where they faced an intimidating opponent in Baia Mare.

"It was a big challenge, but we managed to beat them thanks to an amazing home performance." 

The keys to this success, she says, were "our hard defence and our very good backcourt players. Daria Dmitrieva, Olga Akopian – these girls can do everything. They can shoot, they can pass...it's a pleasure to play alongside them."

Ready to run a marathon

Now Asma is facing the biggest handball event of her young career. 

"I've played World Championships, but this is something else," she says, sounding excited. 

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I worked hard for it, and now is the chance to show how I've improved." 

Dinamo-Sinara will face Larvik, a team brimming with Champions League experience, in their semi-final in Budapest. But that doesn't scare the Russian team, because they have been preparing carefully especially for the Scandinavian opponent. 

"Larvik girls, they run like crazy. Sixty minutes of running, running, running...so our coach set up a really special build-up for us," El Ghaoui laughs. 

"We've been running all the time, and we will be until we meet in Budapest. I feel like I'm ready to run a marathon! We've got to be ready to step up a gear to match our opponents." 

But even though El Ghaoui is the first African to take part, she is not happy with just participating in the event:

"It will be a massive women’s handball party, and I'm honoured to be part of it – but now I want to win it. The atmosphere, the fact that we've got nothing to lose – everything's in place for us to build something special."

Dreaming of waving the Tunisian flag in Budapest

The MVM EHF FINAL4 will be made even more special for the Monastir-born line player because of the people that will travel to Budapest to attend. 

"A lot of people will be in the stands: all my former coaches, my national team trainer, people from the Tunisian federation. Even the Tunisian ambassador in Hungary will be there!" she says, slightly overwhelmed. 

"I don't know yet if my parents will be there, but I'm sure they'll be behind me wherever they are. They would be so proud for me to wave the Tunisian flag in the arena." 

With such a prestigious fan-club, you might imagine she's already ready to be some kind of a model for Tunisian handball. 

"Being an example for the young generations when I'm only 23 would feel a bit strange," Asma admits. 

"All I can give is advice to all the young girls I know that play handball: I tell them to go overseas, to progress and see something else. It sure feels like an adventure, but if you don't try your luck, you will never win."


TEXT: Kevin Domas / cg
 
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