Three away victoriesArticle
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Győr, Oltchim and Buducnost win in the Main Round opener of the EHF Champions League.

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Three away victories

The opening games of the EHF Champions League Main Round brought the expected tense and exciting matches, where the four away teams celebrated victories to the great disappointment of the local spectators.

Yesterday, title holder Larvik won its opener in Denmark, and Hungary´s Győr followed them today after defeating Itxako in a fantastic thriller.

In Group 2, favourites Oltchim Valcea and Buducnost each collected two points after away victories. 

Group 1

Grupo Asfi Itxako Navarra (ESP) vs. Győri Audi ETO (HUN) 26:28 (13:14)

In a tense game with a thrilling finale, Győr stopped the success story of last year´s finalist and with this close victory, the east Europeans reached a great position in their group after the opener of the Main Round.

Both Itxako and Győri Audi ETO went on court with great enthusiasm, and it was a highly tense game from the very first moment.

With two Hungarian goals coach Karl Erik Bøhn´s team started better, but the Spanish spectators pushed their team loudly and with their backing coach Ambros Martín´s team turned the match with four straight goals.

Andrea Barnó and her team-mates took full advantage of marvelous saves from outstanding goalkeeper Silvia Navarro and with great attacking the yellow-black team marched ahead by two goals.

Itxako´s Portuguese international Alexandrina Barbosa was outstanding from the back-court, but so was Győr´s Eduarda Amorim. Both rifled great goals and kept their side in game.

Barbosa received shooting support from the marvelous Nerea Pena, but the Hungarians, led by Anita Görbicz, remained close to their opponents.

The tense match continued at a high pace with Itxako taking full advantage of Hungarian defensive errors, but Anita Görbicz and her team-mates remained fully focused in attack and Katrine Lunde Haraldsen saved with great efficiency.

Despite Itxako effectively controlling the game for 30 minutes, Heidi Løke´s goal in the dying seconds meant a tight lead for Győr after the first period.

For the second half Ambros Martín reacted and brought in defensive specialist Raphaëlle Tervel to switch to a more aggressive 5-1 formation, meaning his side often defended on the nine metre line.

However the Győr players selected top gear and with Jovanka Radičević´s goals Bøhn´s team extended the lead to three goals.

Barbosa and her colleagues went all out and tried to keep up the fight with their speedy and tactically-clever Hungarian counterpart.

Centre-back Anita Görbicz continued to rifle several spectacular unorthodox goals, Haraldsen remained rock solid in the goal, and Itxako showed nerves in their attacking.

On the Spanish side right winger Jessy Alonso replaced the injured Carmen Martin solidly, but Lunde Haraldsen showed a world-class performance. Thanks to her saves, the Hungarians enjoyed a great backing, and the superior Anita Görbicz scored at will.

Itxako made great efforts to stage a comeback and turn the match, but Győr remained in the lead at the final buzzer.

With this victory Győr collected two vital points in the race for a semi-final spot, whilst Itxako will be under great pressure next weekend, when they visit title holder Larvik for another hot duel.

Group 2

RK Krim Mercator (SLO) vs. C.S. Oltchim Rm. Vâlcea (ROU) 25:31 (13:16)

Coach Radu Voina´s team collected two important away points, whilst Krim will have a tough time if they aim to reach the semi-final of this year´s edition of the EHF Champions League. 

Three straight strikes from sharpshooter Gorica Acimovic meant a quick three-goal lead for the hosts, whilst Oltchim´s balls cannoned back off the bar. The Romanian back court had little luck and seemed to have left their heads in the cabins.

Coach Radu Voina´s team wasn’t shocked by the opponents’ lead though, as they soon found the rhythm of the game, closed the gap and kept up the fight with the Slovenians.

Quick attacks followed, paying little regard to defensive work on either side, but neither of the teams could increase the lead to a greater margin.

The returning Luminita Dinu-Hutupan in the Oltchim goal started several counter attacks that resulted in goals, but the 40-year-old veteran had massive problems blocking the sharp shots of the Krim back line. The Oltchim defensive wall didn´t help their goalkeeper much either.

At the other end, Jelena Grubisic produced several athletic and heroic saves, but in the dying minutes of the first period the experienced Oltchim switched to a man-marking defence and the Romanians seized upon every Krim attacking mistake. Those errors were punished with several fastbreak goals, which meant a comfortable three-goal lead after 30 minutes.

The pressure rose in the second period, as both teams aimed for victory in their Main Round opener to maintain their high hopes in the current EHF Champions League season. The pressure resulted in both teams showing nerves and missing several clear-cut chances.

Thanks to the outstanding Yeliz Özel (with eight goals, the top-scorer for Oltchim), the Romanians increased their lead to six goals, but Krim didn’t give up the clash and remained focused. With Gorica Acimovic, the match’s top scorer with nine goals, coach Tone Tiselj´s team started an energy-sapping catch-up phase and came as close as three goals.

The Romanian fluctuation only existed for a few minutes, as Oltchim woke up, increased the tempo and had no problems during the dying minutes.

Metz Handball (FRA) vs. Buducnost (MNE) 27:29 (14:15)

An unexpectedly tight match took place in Metz, where the French champions kept up the fight bravely with the Montenegrins for the whole match, but experience helped Bojana Popović and her team-mates to collect their first two points in the Main Round.

"We haven’t achieved our goals yet, the Main Round is just the beginning of a new adventure," said Metz coach Sebastian Gardillou prior to the match.

His side delivered a great game despite missing number one playmaker Allison Pineau who is out with a long-term injury.

Her replacement, the Serbian international Kristina Liščević became one of Metz´s best players with five goals, whilst on the Montenegrin side, goalkeeper Clara Woltering made an amazing 17 saves, and was one of the main pillars for her side´s victory.

In the dying minutes the French lacked a bit of wisdom and toughness in their game plan and lost important balls in attack that were clinically punished by the Buducnost back line.

This tight away win is a big plus for Buducnost as they try to secure a semi-final spot. Metz, in the first ever Main Round game in their history, showed great character in tonight´s clash, and Gardillou´s team will surely be a tough opponent for Oltchim and Krim in the coming weeks of the EHF Champions League.

TEXT: Márk Hegedüs