Itxako in the semis, Larvik dominantArticle
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Itxako progress to the semis in a thriller, while Larvik win easily over Leipzig.

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Itxako in the semis, Larvik dominant

Group 1

Itxako Reyno De Navarra (ESP) - RK Krim Ljubljana (SLO) 25:24 (15:13)

Itxako, as group leader, hosted Krim, the bottom team of the group, in a crucial match which was the Slovenians’ last chance in the race for a semi-final spot.

Krim coach Marta Bon picked young goalkeeper Neja Šoberl for the starting line-up, but her 'surprise effect' didn’t work, as the enthusiastic Spaniards quickly took the lead.

After the warm-up phase, Bon replaced Šoberl with Jelena Grubišić. With her backing, Lekić and Co. dominated and dictated a highly-paced game, as Krim turned the game to establish a 2-3 goal lead.

The highly-motivated home side wasn’t shocked by the sudden Krim lead though, as they have already turned several games in the Main Round after being down by as many as 3 to 5 goals.

Krim weren’t able to maintain the high pace and the Spanish players fought back bravely. With Alexandrina Barbosa’s marvelous 9-meter shots, Ambros Martín’s team equalized, and then the home team maintained the lead to half-time.

"The atmosphere within the team is fantastic, but we feel very tired," said Itxako line-player Begoña Fernández prior to the match.

This tiredness was not seen on the players’ faces, as they continued to play very well in this nail-biting thriller. A highly tense and very interesting game developed with great moments and fantastic action from both sides.

After 3/4 of the match, Krim came as close as one goal and they now sensed a chance to turn the game again. With Tamara Mavsar’s goal they first equalized in the 50th minute.

Just as in the match against Oltchim, the Spaniards opened their defence to 5:1 and 4:2 to disrupt Krim and used many breakthroughs that resulted in penalties, which Emiliya Turey cleverly executed.

The question remained who would mobilize their best reserves for the deciding phase.

Bon brought on Barbara Varlec, and with the young right back, Krim reinforced their craft and turned the game.

The last minutes were very exciting and of high tension as the lead changed hands several times.

In the last minute, Itxako led by one goal, Krim had the ball, but Andrea Penezić missed, so the Spanish fiesta started with the biggest success in Itxako’s history so far: the semi-final in the elite EHF CL.

"It’s tough to say who would be our ideal opponent from the other group. Those two teams, Larvik and Győri Audi ETO, are my personal favorite clubs, and based on our game plan, I’d probably prefer the Hungarians," said line player Begoña Fernández.

Group 2

Larvik HK (NOR) - HC Leipzig (GER) 29:19 (14:10)

After impressive performances in the Norwegian league, Larvik’s gifted right winger Amanda Kurtović debuted in the EHF Champions League, albeit in the phase when the match had already been decided. Larvik had no problem in securing the two points at home, as Hammerseng and her team-mates celebrated a well-deserved 10-goal victory.

Despite Larvik’s early 2-goal lead, the away team of Leipzig showed no respect against the favoured Norwegians and put up on a quality show from the start.

The teams were on level terms for almost 20 minutes, as Heine Jensen’s team didn’t allow Larvik to use their most potent weapon: the counter attack. Both teams placed much emphasis on defence, and as both goalkeepers, Lene Rantala and Katja Schülke, produced heroics between the sticks, not many goals were scored.

Larvik seemed to have big trouble playing 6 against 6, and Karolina Kudlacz continued her magnificent performance of the last round, scoring several eye-catching goals from different angles.

With a two minute suspension of Leipzig’s line player Anne Müller, Larvik very effectively punished every German mistake. Their attackers used the extra space on the court and both Kari Mette Johansen and Heidi Løke scored from fast counter attacks, allowing their team to a four-goal lead at half-time.

Cecilie Leganger joined Tor Odvar Moen’s team for the second half and the highly-focused keeper was able to top Rantala’s classy performance from the first half.

Larvik moved their defence to the 9 meter line to disturb Leipzig’s attacks much earlier. With this stable defence and Jensen’s team lacking concentration in attack, Tonje Larsen and Co. quickly increased their lead to 7 goals, and with this, the game was decided.

On the German side, several technical errors crept in, and as they weren’t able to reproduce their quality performances of the previous rounds, Larvik collected another two points, while Leipzig are still without points in the Main Round.

TEXT: Márk Hegedüs