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COUNTDOWN #5: Perennial contenders since their win in 2015/16, CSM have never been able to repeat that performance. Is this one of the last chances?

»EHF CL Channel »2021-22 Women's CL

Another difficult season and another early exit in the DELO EHF Champions League 2020/21 saw CSM Bucuresti head directly to the drawing board to make some changes in their roster. Surprisingly, CSM did not resort to changing the coach as they did in the past, with Adi Vasile becoming the longest-tenured coach for the team, celebrating two years on the job in October — a much-needed beacon of stability.

With eight new players in the roster, including six seniors, CSM will have a new look and a Nordic twist this season, but the main issue will be Cristina Neagu’s health and durability throughout. Yet the feeling is that the current iteration of their roster, with stalwarts like Cristina Neagu, Jelena Grubisic and Carmen Martin, has one of the last chances to challenge for the title

Main facts

  • CSM won the Romanian title for the first time since 2017/18 season, despite boasting the biggest names in the competition
  • the Romanian side are one of the six teams that start the competition as previous winners of the DELO EHF Champions League
  • after three consecutive EHF FINAL4 berths in their first three seasons in the competition, CSM failed to progress to Budapest in the last three seasons. Last April, CSM had a 51:51 aggregate draw with CSKA in the quarter-finals, with the Russian side progressing to the EHF FINAL4 due to the larger number of goals scored in the away matches — 27 to CSM’s 19
  • players of eight nationalities form CSM’s roster (six from Romania, three each from the Netherlands and Norway, two from Montenegro and Slovenia, and one from France, Spain and Croatia)

Most important question: Will Neagu be healthy throughout the season?

A shoulder injury followed by two ACL tears have hampered Cristina Neagu’s ability to deliver her full potential throughout her career. Neagu underwent another knee surgery in May, then came back only to suffer another muscular strain, which slowed her progression to a clean bill of health prior to the start of the DELO EHF Champions League.

Sure enough, she will be ready and her statement of intention towards an EHF FINAL4 berth come next May was clear. The 33-year-old left back took a leave of absence from the Romania national team, issuing a year-long break, punting the chance to represent the side at the IHF Women’s World Championship in December 2021.

Neagu has scored 800 goals in her career in the DELO EHF Champions League, including three seasons with over 100 goals (2014/15: 102, 2017/18: 110, and a personal record 115 goals in 2020/21), underlining just how important her contribution is to any team she plays for.

Under the spotlight: Jelena Grubisic

The 34-year-old goalkeeper is the longest-serving player for CSM Bucuresti, having joined the Romanian powerhouse in 2015. She is one of the last two players who won the DELO EHF Champions League with CSM in 2016, although Carmen Martin had a two-year stint at Nice Handball before returning to the Romanian capital in 2019.

Grubisic had a superb last season for CSM, with her otherworldly saves being critical for her team’s success. Her contract was up this summer. She contemplated retirement and was celebrated for her last games, both in the premium European competition and in the Romanian league, only for Grubisic to inform CSM of a U-turn in her plans. She signed for another season and will have serious help in the form of Tess Wester, the Dutch goalkeeper snatched up by CSM this summer.

How they rate themselves

As title contenders — it has always been and will probably always be so as long as the Romanian side take part in the DELO EHF Champions League. As the only Romanian team in this season’s line-up, all eyes will be on CSM to deliver their first DELO EHF FINAL4 berth since the 2017/18 season.

“Every year I am motivated to win trophies. After we failed to qualify for the EHF FINAL4 in the last two seasons, I hope that this season we’ll get the chance to fight for the trophy,” said team captain Neagu.

Her words were echoed by coach Vasile: “We aim high every season and this season is no different. Getting to the DELO EHF FINAL4 is our first goal and we will do all it takes to achieve this goal. Our second objective is to establish ourselves as a solid and reliable club in the elite of the competition and raise our standard every season.”

What the numbers say

800 — the number of goals scored by Neagu in the DELO EHF Champions League. She is 216 goals off the top mark in the standings, held by Hungarian legend Anita Görbicz, but can leapfrog Katarina Bulatovic in fifth place on the all-time top scorer list. Provided she keeps her output from the last season, Neagu could pass Görbicz in two seasons.

Did you know?

CSM lost line player Crina Pintea (nee Ailincai), who returned to Györi Audi ETO KC, but managed to snatch a promising line player from the under-19 Romanian league runners-up Chimia Ramnicu Valcea. Andreea Ailincai is Crina’s sister. She also plays with her heart on her sleeve and has stated that her objective is to team up with Crina for a Romanian challenge for a medal at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games. Right now, Andreea is only 18 years old and is third in the pecking order on the line player position, after Yvette Broch and Ema Ramusovic.

Arrivals and departures:

Arrivals: Tess Wester (Odense Håndbold), Marie Davidsen (Thüringer HC), Malin Aune (Vipers Kristiansand), Yvette Broch (Metz Handball), Ema Ramusovic (Buducnost), Emilie Hegh Arntzen (Vipers Kristiansand), Alicia Gogirla (Corona Brasov), Andreea Ailincai (Chimia Ramnicu Valcea)

Departures: Bianca Bazaliu (RK Podravka Vegeta), Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa (Gloria Bistrita), Denisa Dedu (Rapid Bucuresti), Laura Moisa (Gloria Bistrita), Gabriela Perianu (Rapid Bucuresti), Crina Pintea (Györi Audi ETO KC), Dragana Cvijic (Krim Mercator)

Past achievements

EHF Champions League:

Participations (including 2021/22 season): seven
Winners (1): 2015/2016
Semi-finals (2): 2016/17, 2017/18
Quarter-finals (3): 2018/19, 2019/20, 2020/21


Romanian league: Five titles (2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2021)
Romanian Cup: Four titles (2016, 2017, 2018, 2019)

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu