She is only 22 years old but is already in her sixth season with Hungarian powerhouse FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and has become a widely recognisable name in Europe.
Noémi Háfra won the Junior World Championship in 2018, where she was named the All-star Team left back in the historic win – Hungary’s first in this competition. Her rise to prominence was rapid after that, as she stood out in the EHF Champions League with 80 goals in the 2018/19 season.
Barely six months after her All-star Team award at the Junior World Championship, Hafra scooped the left back position in the best seven at the EHF EURO 2018. In addition, Hafra was named Best Young Player in the Champions League two seasons running, in 2018/19 and 2019/20.
As her generation begins to take over, she is one of the leaders of the young but very talented Hungarian squad for the EHF EURO 2020.
eurohandball.com: How has this year affected you as an athlete?
Noémi Háfra: “For me, it was like hell when we had do rest for weeks because of Covid-19. I wanted to do sport again, play with my teammates, practice. It was tough to stay at home and rest.”
eurohandball.com: What is the biggest challenge for your club nowadays?
Noémi Háfra: “A team works well when the members spend enough time together and there is enough time for the chemistry to be built. As we could not spend as much as we wanted to, we are lacking this chemistry. Our line needs to be warmed up together, get in form, to feel each other better.”
eurohandball.com: Only a few weeks and the EURO 2020 begins. Why will it be special for you?
Noémi Háfra: “This is handball’s toughest national event. With a good result, we could show the world that we beat the pandemic both figuratively and literally. On the other hand, the upcoming gathering will be very unique as there will be no spectators in the venues. In the last couple of months we got used to it, but still. It is a little bit weird and for a player like me, who likes to perform in front of the crowd, it will never the ‘normal’ way. I enjoy the chanting of the fans, the atmosphere, however, this is what it is. I am delighted that we can at least play handball.”
eurohandball.com: Netherlands, Serbia, Croatia – they are the opponents in group C. What are your expectations against them?
Noémi Háfra: “We have always played pretty tough and tight matches against the Dutch squad. I have a feeling that they really know when to explode in a good way. I want to finally sink their ship, but they have a lot of great players while we are good as a team, together. Serbia wants to show the world that they belong to the best of women’s handball. Their fighting spirit never lets them stop, therefore, you can never gear down as their opponent while you are on the court. It is always hard to play against teams from the Balkans, yet we have to beat the Croatians.”
eurohandball.com: If you could choose, against whom would you play the final?
Noémi Háfra: “It could be a dream for us if we play final. We have to go step by step. On the other hand, if I play with the idea, Netherlands would be one of them, but Spain is also a great choice as two years ago at the EURO 2018 in France, we swept them with an almost perfect game. However, they struck back in Japan at the World Championship. I want to see who is better.
“Romania belongs to this category also, especially after what happened last year [at the World Championship] when we had a huge match except the last four to five minutes. I like the challenges, so the big dogs like Norway or Russia would be also amazing to face.”
eurohandball.com: What is Hungary’s biggest advantage?
Noémi Háfra: “We are a real uppercase TEAM. On both sides of the court, we work well together. This teamwork cannot be replaced by talent.”
eurohandball.com: Which positions do you think are the strongest in the national squad?
Noémi Háfra: “Blanka Bíró’s performance in the goal will be unbelievably important, just as our main defensive players Zsuzsanna Tomori and Klára Szekeres. If they play their best, our defence is almost impenetrable. When Anikó Kovacsics gets her streak, nobody can stop her. When our team believes it, we can beat everybody!”
eurohandball.com: How is it working with the coaching duo?
Noémi Háfra: “It is very helpful that our coach in FTC, Gabor Elek, knows us well and the tactics are also similar. As he know our reactions, he can handle us smoothly. I really enjoy the work with them. They split the game plan, attacking belongs to Elek, while Gabor Danyi, head coach of Györi Audi ETO KC, guides our defence.”
eurohandball.com: What are the goals at the EURO?
Noémi Háfra: “We want to play as many games as possible. I am not only talking about winning games, but to stay healthy during the whole tournament. If anybody gets the virus, we cannot do anything but go home. I think, with these circumstances, every player will be more tense.”
eurohandball.com: At the end of this season, Tokyo awaits the ones who are worthy. What does the Olympics mean to you?
Noémi Háfra: “I would be indescribably happy if we qualified. Hungarian women’s handball needs it a lot. We have to put Hungary back to where it belongs, to the top of handball. I already started to prepare myself but first comes first: the qualifying games. We have to play well, win and we can talk about Tokyo.”
eurohandball.com: What did you learn from this season so far and what awaits you in the next?
Noémi Háfra: “The long mandatory rest broke my preparation for the season. I was quicker and stronger than ever. Although I feel I slowly get back my energy, I hope that this nightmare will not come back and I will be ready for whatever comes my way. We are almost halfway through the season – I think, the second half is more important, and I hope it will be the better also.”