Althaus: No favourite, no underdog in BudapestArticle
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FEATURE: The German line player hopes for her third Champions League title – and her first with Vardar.

Althaus: No favourite, no underdog in Budapest

HC Vardar have a highly experienced squad, but coach Indira Kastratovic’s roster contains only one multiple EHF Champions League winner: Anja Althaus.

The German line player and defensive specialist has claimed the trophy twice, in 2009 and 2010 with Viborg HK. “Oh my god, it’s already six years ago!” the 33 years old cornerstone of Vardar defence laughs when asked about her memories.

Born in the handball-crazy city of Magdeburg, Althaus made it to Denmark where she won several titles during Viborg’s strongest years in the Champions League and Danish club competition.

After five seasons (2007-2012) she returned to her homeland to join German champions Thüringer HC, before receiving the once-in-a-lifetime offer from Vardar.

“I absolutely appreciated this project from my first day on,” says Althaus. In the summer of 2014, some months after Vardar qualified for the first ever Women’s EHF FINAL4 in their debut Champions League season, she moved to Skopje.

“From signing my contract on, my main goal was to win the EHF Champions League with Vardar – this is why I am here.”

Last year, Althaus had her first ever appearance at the FINAL4 in Budapest, but just as they did in 2014, Vardar lost the semi-final against the team that would go on to become champions: Buducnost.

This year, the base is different.

For the first time, the Macedonian club will not meet the Montenegrin powerhouse in the semi-final duel. “But we did not open several bottles of champagne after the draw, as we know that Bucuresti is a really tough opponent,” says Althaus.

“When you have come so far and you want to win the trophy, it does not matter which team you face in the semi, and I am sure that this year the FINAL4 will be the most equal and the best ever. In my opinion, there is no favourite and no underdog.”

In the main round, Vardar won both duels against the Romanian champions, but the German line player says this is not a hint for how things will finish at the FINAL4.

“This semi is one single match, with no chance for repairing anything in the second leg. The team that has the better focus through those 60 minutes will proceed to the final – and I hope that it is us this time.

“We made so many steps this season and even more since I have arrived in Skopje. Our team is settled and rehearsed now, but still we have some room for improvement in Budapest. The expectations in Skopje and the whole of Macedonia are huge.”

In case of two victories in Budapest, Althaus will be the first German female handball player to win the Champions League with two different clubs. Grit Jurack (three titles) and Nora Reiche (one) won the title only with Viborg, and Clara Woltering (two titles) only with Buducnost.

For Althaus, the crucial final period of preparation will be focused on “reducing the number of mistakes, strengthening our defence and then being well prepared in our heads that we never, ever feel secure until the final buzzer.”

Althaus admits she was surprised that Rostov missed qualification for Budapest after their incredible season:

“The composition of the FINAL4 proves that the competition was split in two completely different halves. Our tough main round group, from which all four semi-finalists arrive in Budapest, and the other one.

“Maybe Rostov were not used to facing really tough opponents, and this was the reason they were eliminated by Bucuresti.”

Althaus has extended her contract with Vardar until 2017, but hopes to make her dream come true in 2016: “I will not leave Skopje before we win the Champions League.”

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg