Knedlikova piles pressure on Rostov
Jana Knedlikova has hit the ground running with Vipers Kristiansand this season.
With 39 goals in the DELO EHF Champions League, the Czech wing appears to be a perfect fit with her new team’s style of play — all of this despite the fact that she moved from Györ last summer in the middle of a pandemic.
“Adapting to Vipers was pretty easy for me because I knew some of the team already from our time in Györ,” says Knedlikova.
“I had experience with Norwegians at Györ and I have to say, I had the same impression when I came to Kristiansand. It feels like everybody is so open and helpful to me.”
Vipers have accepted her with open arms and she has repaid them as one of the team’s top scorers. After six seasons in Hungary with the dominant force in club handball, Knedlikova has made life in Kristiansand work for her, with the team as her one and only social circle.
“Playing with the team has been so natural. It feels so familiar. Even with the pandemic, I came to a new city and a new country and did not know anyone.
“Compared to my teammates, who cannot see friends or family, it is easier for me as I get to see my teammates. The problem, of course, is the travelling.”
“Opposing fans can make you even better”
The travelling has been a core feature of Vipers’ season so far, with only two of their 13 European matches this season played at home due to tight restrictions in Norway.
On top of that, there has been no domestic action since early January, meaning Kristiansand’s past eight matches have been on the road, making their progress this season all the more impressive.
“It has been a bit crazy for us. Looking forward to playing games, then not being able to play with the rules changing. We had to move to other countries to play and keep fighting in the Champions League, which is why we are in Rostov now.
“It has been a success but we do not want it to finish here — we will fight to get further and I believe we can do that,” states the 31-year-old right wing, who has a pragmatic view on their progression from the play-offs against Odense, where both games were in Denmark.
“Although we did not have a home game against Odense, we knew there would be no fans in either game, so in the end it did not matter where we played because the court is the same in every country and it is what happens on the court that counts.”
Vipers are in for a different challenge this weekend: a double header against Rostov-Don — two matches in 24 hours against the club Knedlikova beat in the 2019 final with Györ.
“It will be different again in Rostov with fans in the arena. We are not used to that anymore. I hope that this atmosphere will make us feel ready for a fight and make the whole thing feel more real,” says Knedlikova.
“I know the fans will be on their side but sometimes that can make you even better. Most of the pressure will be on them, playing at home, they are expected to win and we have to use that to our advantage.”
Besides the psychological side of the occasion, Knedlikova highlights what will make the difference on court over the 120 minutes of action against a Rostov side they have already met this season, in a group phase match Vipers lost 23:24.
“The main thing for us in attack is to maintain our speed and play collectively. In defence, we have learned from the previous games that we have to work much harder and make it tougher for them.”
“We will not pretend we do not know each other”
As if battling for a place in the DELO EHF FINAL4 was not enough incentive, there is an added personal edge to this clash for Jana Knedlikova, as her partner Tomas Hlavaty is part of Rostov’s coaching team — a topic that has been avoided on their phone calls recently.
“We have talked about handball in the last week but not about our teams. I would not get any tactical hints from him if I tried,” says Knedlikova.
“We will not pretend we do not know each other in the warm-ups. We will say hello, but we will be on other sides of the court from zero to 60 minutes.”
Knedlikova and Hlavaty worked together in Györ but have been in a long-distance relationship since 2018, when the Slovak coach moved to Rostov as part of Ambros Martin’s coaching team.
“It is the third year we are away from each other but the pandemic has made the last year even harder. But we can be happy that we are both working in professional sports and in the same competition because that is the chance to meet.
“So thankfully we had the European Championship in Denmark and the Champions League to see each other live.”
Both are used to making the annual trip to Budapest for the biggest weekend in women’s club handball but only one will have the pleasure this year.
The double-header between Rostov-Don and Vipers Kristiansand promises to be the highlight of the weekend and it all begins with Match of the Week on Saturday at 14:00 CEST.
I know the fans will be on their side but sometimes that can make you even better. Most of the pressure will be on them, playing at home, they are expected to win and we have to use that to our advantage.