Clash of the titans to decide Baia Mare’s future
Nine months ago, CS Minaur Baia Mare were getting ready to host the inaugural EHF FINALS Women, subsequently becoming the team to watch in a star-studded lineup that also included Siofok KC, Les Neptunes de Nantes and Herning-Ikast Handbold.
“I can remember the feeling we all got at half-time in the semi-final against Nantes. It seemed like everything was slipping from our hands,” remembers centre back Cristina Laslo, Minaur’s vice-captain.
Nantes led by six goals, 21:15, and the Romanian team’s comeback fell short in the dying minutes, as the French side secured a 36:34 and progressed to win the trophy.
“That galvanised us and helped us win the bronze medal game against Herning-Ikast Handbold. We had nothing more to lose and it motivated us,” adds Ana-Maria Tanasie, Minaur’s captain.
Both Tanasie and Laslo will be once again on the court on Sunday, when Baia Mare host Les Neptunes de Nantes, in Group B of this season’s EHF European League Women. While the stakes are not the same like in the EHF FINALS, it is a must-win game for Baia Mare, a crucial clash that will define their future in the competition.
Marred by injuries, the Romanian side lost their previous two away games against SG BBM Bietigheim and Nantes and find themselves two points behind the French title holders, with another loss being the proverbial nail in the coffin.
The loss against Bietigheim was their worst in history in European competitions, a 19-goal drubbing, 39:20, that certainly had an impact on their morale.
“It definitely hurt us as a team and we really needed to get a wake-up call and start playing better. We are still feeling it, but this is a new game and, most importantly, it will be at home, in Baia Mare, with the fans behind us,” says Laslo.
Another blow was dealt by their nemesis, Nantes, who won the first leg between the two teams, 34:29, at home, despite the Romanian side trying their best to stay close, after the first half ended in a draw, 14:14.
It means that Baia Mare have now lost two out of two against Nantes, as a certain pattern is beginning to emerge.
“We started the second half bad and we could not manage a comeback. It was a difficult game, because they have a very good team, a balanced team, with two solutions on the same position, so they can make changes,” adds the Romanian centre back.
Few teams take advantage of their home court like CS Minaur Baia Mare had in the previous seasons. Over the last two seasons, the Romanian team played eight games, winning seven and conceding only one loss, the one against Nantes in the EHF FINALS Women.
In fact, in the history of the newly-created competition, Baia Mare have the best record at home, while Nantes and the Romanian side are two of the three sides that won at least nine games in the EHF European League Women, alongside Herning-Ikast Handbold.
“Our team is quite different from last season, we had many players who left, but also a lot of bad luck with several injuries that certainly did not help. But the players who are really here now are doing their best to help the team get better,” says Laslo.
Getting better definitely means sealing a win against Les Neptunes de Nantes at this point of the group phase. With SG BBM Bietigheim cruising to three wins in three games, Baia Mare and Nantes are locked in a battle for the other quarter-finals berth in the group.
“Nantes look different from last season. Individually, they certainly lost a lot after Bruna de Paula Almeida left last summer. But they have a very good roster and their results, both in this competition and in the French league, speak for themselves,” says Laslo.
But how can Baia Mare bounce back after two torrid defeats?
Tanasie, the team’s captain, thinks she knows the answer, which literally hits home.
“We have some great fans and we also had a week at home, we did not have to change a lot of planes, hotel rooms and basically be on the run. This will be very important for us and I would not call our arena a fortress, but teams found it very difficult to beat Minaur here,” says the left wing.
Motivation will be key for Baia Mare, as well as a better defensive effort, as the Romanian side leaked the largest number of goals in the competition, 105, one of the only two teams to pass the 100-goal mark after the first three rounds, with ESBF Besancon (104 goals) closing in.
Their attack has also been lacking at times, with Laslo being the key of unlocking the opponent defences, with her free-flowing passing and her 12 goals scored in the first three games.
“We simply need to be better. Forget about everything that is happening or what happened in the past matches and focus on this match,” concludes the centre back.