The remaining four are ready to battleArticle
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Preview of the two semi-final matches of the EHF Women's Champions League.

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The remaining four are ready to battle

April brings us important decisions in the fight for the two participants in the EHF Women’s Champions League final. Over the next two weekends, the four participants, Larvik HK (NOR), Budućnost Podgorica (MNE), Itxako Reyno De Navarra (ESP) and Audi ETO Győr (HUN) will battle it out as they seek to become this season’s two finalists.

This weekend the first leg matches will be played, with the teams finishing ranked second in the Main Round playing at home.

Both semi-final matches of the EHF Women’s Champions League will be broadcast as a free-of-charge live web stream on, which is the official Internet TV platform of the European Handball Federation that offers free live streaming as well as a video on demand service.

Larvik HK (NOR) vs. Budućnost Podgorica (MNE)
Saturday 09 April 2011, 17:15 hrs (local time)

The top class 'Norwegian national team' in the guise of Larvik HK will face eastern European Budućnost with superstar Bojana Popović, who also aim for the final.

The Montenegrins spent last weekend in Austria playing two matches against Hypo-NÖ, before heading to Denmark to be guests of last year’s champions Viborg HK in preparation for the semi-final clash.

"This is a good opportunity for us to prepare. We are together for the whole period and it will help the team to focus exclusively on the match,” goalkeeper Sanela Knezović told

The Montenegrin champions will miss their very important right back and goal-scoring machine Katarina Bulatović, who is suspended, and therefore won’t be on court for the semi-final matches.

In the Croatian international Knezović’s opinion, "this won’t matter too much, as we feel great within the team and will go all out for a good result in Norway."

Larvik coach Tor Odvar Moen is still surprised about the Bulatović case: “I know too little about it, but I still have trouble believing that our opponent has this situation within their team. Bulatović has been superb during the whole season, and after Bojana Popović arrived, she has blossomed and has probably got more space as a result of Bojana’s arrival."

"It will weaken their line-up, but they are still very strong, and we all know the motivation of the other superstar when a place in the final is up for grabs. With or without her, it will not be easy," Moen added.

The Larvik coach already has a strategy in case the Montenegrin right back will not be on court: "We will make some minor adjustments if she’s not there. We have played against Bojana when she wore the green jersey of Viborg, and we have some thoughts of what is the best solution for us against her. We will rely mostly on our own skills and try to force Budućnost as a team into our way of doing things. The pulse of the match will decide how many tactical changes we will have to make."

In the 31-year-old Budućnost goalkeeper’s opinion “the return match on home soil in a full Morača Sports Centre will be of great importance.” She feels that “it will be a great advantage to have the return match at home with the backing of over 5,000 spectators."

The Montenegrin champions, with Knezović as goalkeeper, have collected two Cup Winners’ Cup titles in the last few years, and the Croatian international thinks that “those titles and the gained experience will help us a lot in the game against Larvik."

On the other side, the Larvik coach pays high attention and highest respect to the opponents: "They have proved all season long that they are very strong on all positions, having players that can score goals everywhere. Their main strength is in attack. Our defence and goalkeepers need to show a great performance. If our opponents show any weakness, it is probably in their defence, where they can sometimes be a little – how should I put it – 'wild'. They can lose their concept, but we have the highest respect towards them and we are looking forward to taking them on!"

Itxako Reyno De Navarra (ESP) vs. Audi ETO Győr (HUN)
Saturday 09 April 2011, 19:00 hrs (local time)

In the second semi-final the surprise team of this year’s campaign and one of the EHF Champions League favourites will meet, with Itxako being the underdog, but still aiming high in the competition.

The two clubs already met in last season’s Group Phase of the EHF Champions League. Back then the Hungarians celebrated victory twice. Since then both teams reinforced their squad and marched through to the semi-finals without any problems.

Not many experts expected the Spanish champions to reach the semi-final, but for Győr´s Eduarda Amorim the successful march of Itxako is not a surprise: "Their good results have not surprised me, as every team works hard to get as far as possible in the EHF Champions League."

"I cannot really identify any star player in their side, as their strongest point is team unity. We have to prepare for all of them," added the Győr left back cautiously.

Due to an injury, the 24-year-old was not part of the Győr team that won the Hungarian Cup for the seventh consecutive time last weekend: "After this weekend I feel that our shape is very good. We have been working hard, and winning the cup just gives us extra motivation."

"The healing process for my injury is still ongoing and now I’m doing much better with the therapy and all the extra exercises that are necessary for my rehabilitation. I feel that I will be ready on Saturday to give 100% against Itxako," added the Brazilian international.

In Csaba Konkoly’s team everybody except for her is fit. Experts are very curious which tactics the Győr coach will select to cope with the aggressive and open defence of the Spaniards. Amorim has a possible recipe for success: "Itxako’s open defence works well, but we’ve been working on some combinations to take advantage of the failures that their offensive system offers."

Not only the Hungarian side has an injured player. In the Spanish team, French international Raphaëlle Tervel still has not recovered from her injury and it is questionable whether she can play in the first leg match.

Itxako surprised many after beating top teams on their home ground, so after a tough Main Round Group, Ambros Martín’s players needed some days to relax and regain their form: "We had a few days off in order to disconnect from handball. After this break, we started the preparation for the semi-finals. The matches that we played in the Spanish league were good training matches and they indicated what is expected from us this Saturday," Itxako´s Oana Soit told

When analyzing the opponents, Itxako’s right back highlights Győr´s superstar Anita Görbicz as the main pillar: "She is the symbol of the Hungarian team."

"In addition, they have extraordinary goalkeepers, a strong and tall defence with Aurelia 'Mica' Brădeanu and Simona Spiridon, fast wingers and strong back players, so it’s really a complete team," added Soit.

Coach Ambros Martín underlines the strength of the Hungarian opponent: "They have all the necessary elements for winning the title, strong players, great experience, and fantastic supporters. Still, they have one problem and that’s us, as we have the same objective as them!"

With Brădeanu on the opposite side, Soit will face a team mate from the Romanian National Team on court, which is very special for her: "Everbody here in Spain says that Mica is my sister, as we look very much alike, so I will consider this clash as being the first time when I will perform against someone from my 'family'," the 29-year-old continued smiling.

Besides the 'sister duel', Soit thinks that it will be a great duel of supporters as well, as a good bunch of Hungarians will travel to Estella, but still she counts on Itxako’s supporters: "On Saturday we will fight until the end. We will have the fantastic backing of all the fans in Estella, so Győr will have to sweat a lot if they want to win on our ground."

TEXT: Márk Hegedüs