Things did not go according to plan for the Borussia Dortmund women's handball team. Having narrowly lost 32-29 in Dortmund the week before, the German champions were again beaten by Esbjerg on Sunday – this time away from home – by a 34-24 scoreline. Dortmund's top scorer was Mie Sando with seven goals. BVB's next EHF Champions League match will be away to Podravka Vegeta on 8 January. Their Bundesliga campaign will resume with a trip to Blomberg on 29 December, after the World Cup break.
The situation heading into the final fixture before the World Cup break was clear. The Danes had climbed up to second place in the group (11 points) following their win over Dortmund a week earlier, while the fifth-placed Black & Yellows (seven points) were still well-placed to reach the EHF Champions League play-offs. When the Dortmund delegation began their journey northbound on Saturday morning, Borussia boss André Fuhr struck a cautiously optimistic tone, saying. "We want to round off the first phase of the season well on Sunday; we've really earned that."
But Fuhr was in a slightly less positive mood after the final whistle. "We simply made too many technical errors. Our back area with Grijseels, van der Heijden and Zschocke took only seven out of 23 chances. You can't win if you do that. Our batteries were dead by the end. And in the final 10 minutes, we played ourselves into a bad result. That annoyed me. It's not nice to lose by 10 goals," said André Fuhr following the game in Denmark, which was watched by 2,000 people.
BVB have fallen to sixth place in the group but still have an excellent chance of reaching the play-offs. But against a world-class team like Esbjerg, a squad reduced to the bare bones by a number of injuries found its limit. The burden of competing on three fronts in the Bundesliga, Pokal and Champions League was clear for all to see.
The match was somehow strikingly reminiscent of last Sunday's game: BVB lost the reverse fixture at the Helmut-Körnig-Halle by a narrow 32-19 scoreline, but had to compensate for poor spells throughout and spent the entire first half chasing a clear deficit. This was again the case on Sunday afternoon at the Blue Water Dokken, a multi-purpose hall in Esbjerg on the Jutland North Sea coast. The score stood at 6-6 after 12 minutes; not bad and certainly in part owing to some solid defensive work. Newcomer Paulina Uscinowicz did a very good job in her first game for BVB in the central block. And even the continued absence of regular pivot Merel Freriks, who has been in quarantine with corona since last weekend, was better offset by BVB. Freriks' replacement Mie Sando did an excellent job. Sando gave her side hope with three goals before the break, and took her tally to seven by the end.
Once again, BVB started strongly and competed toe to toe, but by the quarter-hour mark were suffering from an obvious lack of clinical finishing. Esbjerg pulled 9-6 ahead, but Dortmund came back to within one goal on 21 minutes as Gutierrez made it 11-10. It seemed as if – unlike the fixture in Dortmund – BVB were unwilling to be shaken off.
Unfortunately, things panned out exactly as did the previous week. After Laura van der Heijden's goal to make it 13-11 in the 23rd minute, BVB showed the same attacking weakness they had in the reverse fixture. Grijseels, van der Heijden, Sando and Uscinowicz all spurned chances, as the Danes began to make their individual quality abundantly clear. The back players Jacobsen and Jensen scored three times each in the space of six minutes as 13-11 soon became 18-13. And so once again, BVB found themselves five goals behind at the break.
In the second period, BVB fought back with renewed momentum. Grijseels scored via a penalty throw, while Rönning, Moreno and the excellent Sando (two) scored past German national team goalkeeper Dinah Eckerle between the sticks for the Danes. After seven minutes in the second period, it was 21-18 for Esbjerg. Dortmund found themselves within striking distance. For a brief period, there was hope in the air.
But that three-goal deficit was the closest the Black & Yellows would get in the final 20 minutes. When Laura van der Heijden and Frida Rønning missed four attempts between the 41st and 44th minute, Esjberg made them pay. A quarter of an hour before the end, the Danes were back in a comfortable 25-18 lead and the contest was more or less over.
And BVB were not in the physical condition to mount a comeback. Esbjerg, meanwhile played as one would expect from a world-class team. Experienced, very strong technically, assertive. In the 50th minute, coach Jesper Jensen's team had increased the lead to 28-20, and by the 55th minute Esbjerg were 33-22 ahead. BVB were visibly exhausted, offered hardly any resistance and ultimately succumbed to a 34-24 defeat in the final Champions League fixture of this year.
BVB: ten Holte, Kohorst, Grijseels (2/1), van der Heijden (2), Sando (7), Moreno (2), Gutierrez (3), Zschocke (3), Rønning (2), Kücükyildiz, Uscinowicz (1), Berger (1), Abdulla (1)