“My last dance”: Gulldén seeks golden end to career
Six years ago, Isabelle Gulldén delivered one of the most clutch performances in the history of the EHF Champions League Women, leading CSM Bucuresti to an incredible win in their maiden EHF FINAL4 in Budapest.
It was a game for the ages, as the Romanian side took a 29:26 win against Györi Audi ETO KC after penalties, when Gulldén netted 15 times to set the recors for most goals in one in EHF FINAL4 history.
“That weekend was a fairy tale for us, because we came as underdogs. We had some days off prior to the start of the competition and did two perfect games, especially the win in the semi-final against Vardar really enabled us to hope,” Gulldén says.
“We went to penalties with Györ and it really was amazing, we were smiling after the end of extra time, because we were confident in ourselves. And we won the trophy.”
Her 15-goal tally from that game still earns the Swedish centre back a place in the top 20 all-time scorers at the EHF FINAL4.
Gulldén did not stop there and is only 10 goals shy of the record holders in that respect – Nycke Groot and Anita Görbicz, with 57 goals each.
But the Swedish centre back never thinks about the record books or dots down the number of goals scored, focusing instead on the team, like she did throughout her whole stellar career.
“Me? I do not think so,” the centre back says with a laugh. “I do not score so many goals now.”
Since that amazing win in 2016, Gulldén made the trip to Budapest three more times. She won the bronze medal in 2017 and 2018 with CSM Bucuresti before earning silver last season, when Brest Bretagne Handball lost the final 28:34 against Vipers Kristiansand.
However, the good memories trump the bad, as she now heads into her fifth EHF FINAL4, representing the reigning champions.
My last dance, right? Yes, it could be. But I will not dwell on it. We need to win two games and that is it
Holding the title is a difficult feature for any team in the current format of the EHF Champions League Women, but this is exactly why Vipers decided to move for Gulldén, an amazing centre back, with unparalleled creativity, which duly transformed her into a fan favourite in every team she played for.
When Vipers came calling, Gulldén said ‘yes,’ motivated to move closer to her home country and trying to win another trophy: her second EHF Champions League title and third in any European competition, after also securing the Cup Winners’ Cup with Viborg HK in 2014.
“Every competition has its story, but this could be another fairy tale. Or better put: the end of a fairy tale, which has been my career,” says the Swedish centre back.
The current season has not been a walk in the park for Vipers, who lost four games in the group phase but handed Györ their first loss of the season to snatch the second place and an direct quarter-final berth.
A clear 65:49 aggregate win against Krim Mercator Ljubljana followed, as the reigning champions are back into the EHF FINAL4, where they face Metz Handball in the semi-final, a team that beat Vipers twice in the group phase, 23:18 and 31:25.
“It definitely will not be easy, because they are a strong team, that knows how to play this type of games. However, we are getting better and better, and also have a very good, balanced and experienced team,” says Gulldén.
The title holders, who are the first Norwegian team to qualify for the EHF FINAL4 for three seasons in a row, boast the needed experience to navigate through a daring challenge, like a two-day showdown for the trophy.
It might well be the last chance for silverware for Gulldén, who will leave Vipers this summer, moving back to Lugi HF in her native Sweden due to family reasons, after retiring from the national team after the EHF EURO 2020.
“My last dance, right? Yes, it could be. But I will not dwell on it,” Gulldén says. “We need to win two games and that is it.”