Itxako in the Main RoundArticle
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The Spaniards followed Budućnost into the top 8 in the EHF Women´s Champions League.

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Itxako in the Main Round

Thrilling games took place in Round 5 of the EHF Champions League, with Itxako winning a tight game against Dinamo and advancing to the Main Round.

Title defender Larvik surprisingly lost their home match against Viborg, so with Krim drawing with Podravka, it´ll come down to a direct duel between Krim and Larvik to decide the Main Round participant.

Austrian Hypo collected their first two points after beating Metz in an impressive manner, whilst Győr humiliated Randers in Hungary with a powerful demonstration of high quality handball.


FC Midtjylland (DEN) vs. Byåsen (NOR) 18:21 (5:13)

In the second half, FCM were close to a dream comeback to turn the match, but Byåsen, with a strong Terese Pedersen in the goal, grabbed the two points in Ikast and remain in the race for a Main Round place. The Danes can settle things if they collect one point against Budućnost next weekend.

The hosts produced possibly their worst first-half of the season and it cost them two points: FCM had massive difficulties getting into the game, and in offense, their players didn’t seem to know each other, their defence was little better.

On the Norwegian side, Terese Pedersen had a marvelous game, saving in some phases with 80% efficiency, and giving no chance to FCM´s wingers who had scored prolifically in previous matches. The difference could have been even bigger if not for the woodwork or Ingrid Ødegård, who had saved a few times. The hosts were unable to score for a surreal 23 minutes.

Despite being down by 8 goals, the Danes returned from the dressing room with great determination and scored within five minutes as many goals as in the entire first half.

With the backing of their vocal fans FCM went all-out and increased the pressure on their opponents during an amazing catch-up phase.

Although the hosts clearly won the second half, they weren´t able to reach their dream result of only losing by two goals, which would have meant a much better situation for next weekend when they welcome the Montenegrin group leaders.


Larvik (NOR) vs. Viborg HK (DEN) 19:20 (10:12)

Thanks to a great defence, and an outstanding effort by goalkeeper Christina Pedersen, the Danes defeated the title defender in their own arena and gained an extremely favourable position for securing a spot in the Main Round.

From the start, Viborg produced a rock-solid defence, which allowed goalkeeper Pedersen to comfortably make some good saves.

Several times during the first half the Norwegians took the lead, but each time, the away side fought back with great skill and by following the tactical concepts of coach Martin Albertsen.

Viborg´s attacking game was not always top-drawer, but Grit Jurack and her team-mates played with great patience, which in combination with a greatly-improved defence, almost eliminated Larvik´s feared counter attacks.

Despite a two-goal lead, Larvik were the team that returned from the dressing rooms with more determination, and with three quick goals, Tonje Larsen and her colleagues turned the match.

Even so, Christina Pedersen continued to impress between the sticks. At the other end, Rikke Skov was excellent when needed and her combinations with line-player Marit Malm Frafjord brought several goals.

Viborg HK led by three goals on two occasions, but in the final nerve-wracking minutes, they allowed Larvik to narrow the gap to just a single goal.

The Norwegians had the ball at the end, with a last chance to change the outcome of the match, which would have been excellent for them and disastrous for Viborg HK. The green defensive wall held firm, however, and thus the Viborg girls secured a 20:19 victory that sends them to the second place of the group.

RK Krim Mercator (SLO) vs. HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO) 22:22 (13:11)

In a dramatic match of equality, Podravka have lost a point as, seconds before the final whistle, the Croatians were leading, but Krim equalized to force a draw.

That draw means that Podravka are saying farewell to the EHF Champions League, whilst Krim´s future will be decided after the closing round.

The away side from Koprivnica fought bravely and held the lead for 22 minutes, with both goalkeepers saving with good efficiency. Krim turned the match and took a 2-goal advantage, thanks to goals from their trio Andrea Penezić, Kristina Franić and Gorica Aćimović.

The Slovenians had an awful start to the second half, and Podravka were leading 19:17 12 minutes before the final whistle. A nail-biting duel ensued, with great excitement right up until the end. In the dying seconds, Krim leveled the match with a goal by Kristina Bille Hansen to keep one point at home.

So, the decision regarding a Main Round spot must wait until the final round. Krim, Viborg, and Larvik all have six points, whilst Podravka, sadly, will not even have the consolation of a European Cup place in the spring.


Győri Audi ETO (HUN) vs. Randers HK (DEN) 35:20 (16:9)

Magic moments in Hungary, with a standing ovation five minutes before the final whistle: Győr took revenge for their first round loss and humiliated Randers in every aspect of the game.

Backed with their vocal supporters the hosts celebrated a storming start, and led after 15 minutes by 8:1. Katrine Lunde Haraldsen shut the gate and the Hungarian defence was as solid as a rock. These two factors frustrated the Danish back-court totally.

Csaba Konkoly´s team cemented the victory very early, and a very early fiesta also started, with Győr players presenting high-level handball to their loyal fans. Magic moments and skillful attacks unfolded on the court leaving the Danes totally stunned and without hope.

In the second half, Anita Görbicz and her team-mates increased the tempo of their game and after 37 minutes, Győr led by 10 goals for the first time. The Hungarians continued in top shape, Randers gave up, and the gap between the two teams increased from minute to minute.

With this victory, Andrea Lekić and company set the standards high in the EHF Champions League and produced an even stronger performance than a week before in Metz.

Hypo Niederösterreich (AUT) vs. Metz Handball (FRA) 28:25 (15:13)

Strong performances by Hypo´s Alexandra do Nascimento and Viktória Soós, backed by some top goalkeeping from Bárbara Arenhart, meant the first two points of the tournament for the Austrians. Metz will now need a victory over Randers at home to advance to the Main Round.

Coach András Németh´s team started better in this clash, Hypo played with much confidence, and both Soós and Nascimento used their chances to score. Despite an early Metz time out by coach Sébastien Gardillou, Hypo continued to score and established a comfortable 6-goal lead.

It seemed after 20 minutes that the fast pace Hypo had dictated at the beginning would disturb the Austrians more, as they faced a tough-fighting Metz team that closed to two goals at half-time.

Wishing for their first success in this season´s CL tournament, the Austrians kept playing with great motivation, and their enthusiasm paid off. Nascimento played her best match so far, and goalkeeper Arenhart saved several clear-cut chances when Metz were ’on fire’ and coming closer to equalising.

Seven minutes before the end, the French girls leveled the match for the first time, but the highly motivated Austrians selected top-gear and won in the dying minutes. This was their first victory of the season, and thoroughly-deserved.

Group D

Grupo Asfi Itxako Navarra (ESP) vs. Dinamo Volgograd (RUS) 28:26 (15:14)

Itxako have done it again! They have qualified for the second consecutive time for the Main Round of the EHF Champions League.

The Russians were a very difficult opponent, as expected, but Ambros Martín´s team overcame the difficulty and collected those all-important points to put them among the best teams of the continent.

From the early minutes onwards, Dinamo produced a strong, quality defence, and attacking with great speed meant that they had a better start to the game. This was despite good saves from Itxako goalkeeper Silvia Navarro.

A defensive change to 5-1 with Raphaëlle Tervel in front, briefly but effectively, brought the Spaniards the desired result, and with a couple of exclusions suffered by Dinamo, Itxako were back in the game.

However, the Russians knew that this game was vital for them to advance to the Main Round, so rather than surrender, they fought hard and regained the lead.

Itxako worked on their defensive wall again and with the Dinamo players showing tiredness, Itxako established a four-goal lead before the end, with Silvia Navarro shutting the gate again.

Nevertheless, the Russians fought until the final whistle in a bid to prevent an Itxako victory, but finally lost 28:26, and could only watch as the Spaniards celebrated.

TEXT: Márk Hegedüs