Adriana Lage, captain of red handball, was probably wearing diapers when Benfica’s women’s team was crowned national champion of the I Division for the last time, in the 1992/1993 season. In fact, in addition to the 29-year-old anchor, only the Ukrainian Viktoriya Borshchenko, 36, was born.
None of the players on the squad were close to coming into the world. Today, however, it is this group of women with an average age of under 24 who can rewrite history in Leiria – just a draw against Juve Lis, in a game to be broadcast on A BOLA TV at 5.30 pm -, returning to the Lisbon emblem the title of national champion.
BOLA was in Luz to accompany one of the last training sessions of these girls who, even though they are far from being able to make a living from handball, carry the dream with the same professionalism and commitment that they dedicate to studies in most cases, but also to the world of work outside the pavilion, as with the captain, who is a physical therapist.
However, the adrenaline of imminent success overcomes any fatigue and the confidence provided by 21 wins and a draw (27-27) as the worst result – in the 2nd round with ABC -, in 22 rounds, is the best anti-dark circles that a woman can ask.
“We are calm and confident that it will be this weekend that we will get the victory and win our first title as a team. Of course, there is always that nervousness, that anxiety, it seems that the game never starts again. Probably when we are there it will seem that it will never end, that the cup will never come again, above all I am very confident», exulted Adriana Lage, aware of the weight of the story in which she can be the protagonist four days from the end of the championship. “It will be a tribute to the people who made history for the club at that time. If nowadays it is difficult to be an athlete in the world of handball and in the world of sport, 29 years ago it would have been even more difficult for them, so if they managed to make history at that time, we have a much easier life, with excellent conditions here at Benfica. We have an obligation to win and honor all the representatives of Benfica at that time», argued the captain, serving her third season for the eagles.
As one of the oldest, Lage divides her time between handball and physiotherapy, a «profession with physical exhaustion», as she describes it, although there is no regret at the international level. “With time, effort, commitment and dedication, anything is possible.
Before entering the field at N.º 2 da Luz and running like there was no tomorrow, following the guidelines of coach João Alexandre Florêncio and assistant Carla Marina Teixeira, Patrícia Rodrigues’ face was the mirror of the happiness of being able to be «at 60 minutes of the goal» to be champion. A determination for the 24-year-old side who a decade ago broke a record for precocity being called up to the senior team. “I am confident, because I know that we worked hard from the beginning and we continue to work. We still have one game to win and only then can we celebrate. Above all, I’m calm, we’ve been working very well, very focused, despite the little bug of being able to be so close to appear», described Patrícia, who has been an example of perseverance, after having seen successively postponed surgery on her left knee to overcome the sprain with rupture of the cruciate ligaments in the middle of a pandemic.
The Business Management student, however, finds inspiration in the men’s handball team. “The fact that they went to World Cups, Europeans and Olympic Games awakened the fans to the sport. Even those who don’t know us like to watch on television, come to the pavilions and we feel this huge difference too, we have more fans, even in the national team people already know us more and that’s very good”, she guarantees.
Without any degree of kinship with the men’s captain, Paulo Moreno, despite the common surname, Débora Moreno, 24, also has no memories, of course, of when Benfica opened doors to women’s handball in 1971/1972, with Pappoilas Rubras. – this is how the pioneers who made their debut 50 years ago became known -, neither the financial crisis and the restructuring that led to the extinction of the sport in 1993/1994, or the brief return in 1996/1997 with the rise to the 1st Division without continuity. But it is part of the section that in 2018/2019 was reborn from the ashes in the II division and, today, integrates the potential conquest of the 8th trophy. «It still hasn’t dawned on me that it’s almost gone… It was very long, hard and difficult moments, because it’s not easy to be an athlete and to be a female athlete in Portugal, but the work is worth it and it’s good. There is not as much financial investment as in men, which makes things more complicated. Many athletes stop playing to work. I feel that Benfica invested a lot in women’s teams, so much so that they are champions in basketball and football. We train and study or we work and play, in men they can be handball professionals», concluded the Hotel Management student, with enthusiasm lighting up her face.
Read it in full in the print edition or digital from THE BALL.