The Borussia Dortmund women's handball team are set to contest their 11th Champions League game of the season at the weekend. But the Black & Yellows will be clear underdogs when they step out in the Romanian capital Bucharest on Saturday afternoon (16:00 CET).
Armed with an expensively assembled squad full of top class internationals, fourth-placed CSM Bucuresti have lofty ambitions. "A victory for us would be an upset. But we have the advantage of being able to play without pressure," said Borussia coach André Fuhr, who was keen to play down expectations. Even with four games remaining until the group stage concludes on 19 February, progression through to the play-offs is more or less certain. That means the 2021/22 Champions League is already a huge success story for BVB.
For the BVB women's handball team, the teams from Eastern Europe represent a tough obstacle in the top continental competition. In the truest sense of the word: CSM Bucuresti are an unbelievably strong team physically, with over half the players more than 1.80 metres tall. In addition, they possess international, technically skilled players and have a budget in the millions. BVB will have to surpass themselves.
With 10 points on the board, the fourth-placed team in Group A have one more point than BVB. The Black & Yellows lost the reverse fixture in mid-October by a 25-22 scoreline. But the table can be deceptive. Bucuresti, who took home the Champions League trophy in 2016, have consistently improved their form following a mediocre start – even if they did lose 24-21 away to Brest Bretagne this Wednesday.
"An opponent of a world-class calibre awaits us. Cristina Neagu is a multiple world handballer of the year and has scored 70 goals from the left of the back area in the Champions League. Including seven against Brest alone. Elizabeth Omoregie in the middle is also a world-class player. I admit I'm a fan of hers. Her movement impresses me," said BVB coach André Fuhr, who made it clear before the match that the role of favourites lies with the Romanian capital club.
Clara Woltering in the squad
Anyone expecting an all-Romanian line-up in Bucharest will be disappointed, though. CSM are a team brimming with top-class internationals, including a number of exceptional players from the likes of the Netherlands (national team goalkeeper Tess Wester and national team pivot Yvette Broch), Norway, France, Bulgaria, Portugal, Slovenia, Montenegro and Spain. Only six of the players actually come from Romania, including the aforementioned Neagu. That obviously costs a lot. André Fuhr paraphrased the situation as follows: "In financial terms, the top five teams in our group play in a different league, and then there's us as the sixth team. And then some distance behind us are Buducnost Bemax from Montenegro and Podravka Vegeta from Croatia."
BVB, who according to unofficial statistics are the smallest team in the Champions League, will be up against one of the biggest in the tournament. "With that in mind it's obviously clear we need to play a quick game and score simple goals. And in defence we'll have to show a lot of movement and frustrate the opponent so that they cannot make use of their individual strengths," said Fuhr of his tactical approach.
On the personnel front, the Black & Yellows will at least be able to call upon left winger Jennifer Gutiérrez Bermejo following her recovery from Covid-19. "We're gaining quality in that position," the coach said. However, the involvement of Alina Grijseels after a broken nose remains highly doubtful, even improbable. Goalkeeping coach Clara Woltering will again deputise for goalkeeper Madita Kohorst, who has a corona infection. "I'm really grateful to her for that. We're away for almost three days after all," Fuhr said.
The BVB delegation – led by deputy head of department Rupert Thiele – will depart from Dortmund airport at 16:05 CET on Friday. The match in Bucharest will get under way at 16:00 CET on Saturday, with BVB to return to Dortmund on Sunday at 15:30 CET. The game will be broadcast live and free of charge on EHFTV.