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30 Jun, 2022 14:32

Russian ‘handball Messi’ leaves for foreign club

Handball queen Anna Vyakhireva is heading to Norway
Russian ‘handball Messi’ leaves for foreign club

Russian women’s handball star Anna Vyakhireva – who has been compared by some to Lionel Messi for her stature in the sport – has moved to Norwegian team Vipers Kristiansand after leaving Rostov-Don in her homeland.

The reigning Norwegian and European champions announced the capture of the Russian star on their website on Thursday, hailing it as a “big day” for the team.

“Anna can play in multiple positions and has extreme individual skills,” said Vipers head coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad.

“In addition, she has a good eye for the game and for her fellow players. She is one of the very best players in the world.

“It’s a big day for the entire Vipers [family] that she now chooses to play for us.”

Vyakhireva, 27, has long been hailed as one of her sport’s brightest talents. The right back helped the Russian women’s team to Olympic gold at the Rio Games in 2016, following that with silver in Tokyo last summer. Vyakhireva was named player of the tournament at both editions of the Games.

At club level, Vyakhireva starred for Rostov from 2016 onwards, winning the Russian Super League five times, as well as a quintet of Russian Cup and Russian Super Cup titles. She also helped the team to the final of the EHF Champions League in 2019.

Her performances have seen the 5ft 6in star compared to Argentine football icon Lionel Messi, with one YouTube compilation of Vyakhireva’s skills labeling her ‘Handball Messi’.

That was a comparison respected Russian football coach Yuri Semin made when congratulating the team on their performance at the European Championships in 2018, gushing: “Anna Vyakhireva’s ball [skills] can be compared only with the dribbling of Lionel Messi!”  

Upon leaving Rostov, Vyakhireva paid an emotional tribute in a farewell message shared on the club’s website.

“There were tears of joy from victories, and bitterness of defeat,” said the departing star.

“I thank those without whom all this would not make sense, those who have always been there – our fans… It’s time to move on, but I don’t say goodbye. You are forever in my heart!”

In return, the club described Vyakhireva as “fast, strong, brave, amazing and most importantly – beloved.”

Vyakhireva now joins Vipers, the five-time Norwegian REMA 1000-ligaen champions who have won back-to-back EHF Champions League crowns in the past two seasons.

Vyakhireva’s move means she will be able to compete in European competition next season – something she would not have been able to do had she remained at a Russian team.

The European Handball Federation (EHF) banned all Russian and Belarusian teams from its competitions in late February, in response to Moscow’s military campaign in Ukraine.

The Russian Handball Federation (RHF) later had its appeal against that ban rejected by the EHF’s Court of Handball.