The Borussia Dortmund women’s handballers will be in Graz on Saturday and Sunday to battle for the EHF European League title. The path to the Final Four has included some big wins, a record-breaking game and a comeback for the history books.

The long road to the EHF Finals – as they are officially called – started last season already: thanks a second-placed finish in the league, BVB qualified for the European League and were seeded by the EHF for the third qualifying round last summer. BVB went up against Zeleznicar of Serbia at the beginning of December and ran out comfortable winners – by 43-22 and 31-15 scorelines respectively. That sent the Black & Yellows into the group stages, where Henk Groener’s charges were rewarded with a draw that was appealing and attractive from a sporting perspective. First up came a home game against Molde Elite that could have hardly offered up more tension.

The Borussia ladies might have controlled the match for long spells, but the game threatened to turn midway through the second period. The Norwegian ladies even took the lead and looked set to be the victors shortly before the end. But with the score at 32-32, there was time for one more attack for BVB. There were only five seconds left to play when the referee awarded a free throw for Dortmund. Pivot Emma Olsson picked up the ball, played it to Alina Grijseels and the captain hammered it into the net off the inside of the post as the final whistle sounded. The win – and with it the first two points – against the supposed group favourites were in the bag!

The road to group winners

A week later, the team were away to Siófok KC. The Hungarian outfit were the better side that day, played with enormous physicality and ran out 27-24 victors. The Black & Yellows were on the road again another week later – this time to France. BVB made a lightning start and had Besancon completely with their backs to the wall. Dana Bleckmann & Co. were 10-2 in front with not even a quarter of an hour played, completely in control of the game and ultimately picked up points three and four courtesy of a 30-27 victory.

The return leg against the French team at the beginning of February proved to be a demonstration of Black & Yellow power. The visitors were completely overwhelmed, while Borussia were more or less unstoppable and the victory was never in serious doubt at any point of the match. That 31-21 win put the quarter-finals within touching distance and a spot in the knockout stages was secured a week later in Norway: the Black & Yellows gradually pulled away and booked their berth for the final eight with a 32-24 win.

Record-breaking game at the Westfalenhalle

Top spot in the group was now within reach, and there was a perfect setting for the occasion. The return leg against Siófok in mid-February drew a sensational crowd of 11,112 fans to the Westfalenhalle – a sell-out! Never before had so many spectators in Germany watched a women’s handball match at club level. It was also the best-attended match in the history of the EHF European League Women. The players’ performance prompted great jubilation among the many supporters in the stands, because the Borussia Dortmund women’s handball team claimed a hard-fought 26-23 win that saw them secure top spot in the group and celebrate exuberantly after the match.

That absolute highlight was followed exactly one month later by the quarter-final first leg, in which they suffered a clear defeat to Neptunes de Nantes. In the aftermath of the 28-19 loss, there was little hope left in the Dortmund camp that the outcome of the tie could be reversed in the home leg against the French outfit a week later.

In the return fixture, however, the Black & Yellow team made history! It was an even game to begin with, with BVB holding a 13-11 advantage at the break. But Nantes restored parity again after the interval and when Alina Grijseels, who was making her comeback from injury, scored to make it 18-16 in the 38th minute, only the boldest optimists would have expected Borussia to still reach the Final Four.

The “Miracle of Hamm”

What happened next, however, will never be forgotten by anyone who was involved. With Yara ten Holte in outstanding form between the sticks, the unstoppable Alina Grijseels scoring 10 goals in total and the fans in the hall making for a frenetic atmosphere, Nantes could simply no longer withstand the BVB pressure and literally fell apart. Minute by minute, goal by goal, Borussia inched closer and closer towards Graz.              

With exactly 22 seconds left, Grijseels broke through decisively and scored a much-celebrated goal to make it 33-32 – as it stood, the Black & Yellows were in the Final Four. But the game was not over yet, with Nantes launching one final attack. The BVB defence fought bitterly for every centimetre, leaving the French outfit with only one direct free throw as time ran out. But the attempt did not find the net and all hell broke loose: the “Miracle of Hamm” had become reality!