Countdown, part 15: Zvezda ZvenigorodArticle
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Four years after winning the EHF Champions League the Russian “stars” are hoping to reach the semi-finals again.

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Countdown, part 15: Zvezda Zvenigorod

A debutant had never won the Women’s EHF Champions League before 2008 – but then the Russian stars from Zvezda hit the scene. In 2007 the former coach Evgeny Trefilov’s team became Russian champions for the first time after winning the EHF Cup, and in their first season in the EHF Champions League they went all the way to the final, beating Hypo Niederösterreich twice.

But as quickly as the star had risen, so it began to fall: Three more times Zvezda qualified for the EHF Champions League, but each time they were eliminated in the Group Matches.

Now the Russians are eager to prove that they belong among Europe’s elite again. Though they are only ranked third in the strong Russian League below champions Dinamo and Rostov, they made it to the Group Matches by winning the Wild Card Tournament in Paris.

And the team coached by Croatian Zdravko Zovko, who arrived in the Moscow Region last season with top goalkeeping coach Vlado Šola, is tipped by many to be a contender to at least reach the semi-finals after adding top class internationals to their strong squad.

Samira Rocha is the first ever Brazilian to join the Russian club, French international Alexandra Lacrabére is another great signing, just like the two Russian internationals Maria Sidorova and Ekaterina Marennikova, both arriving from domestic rivals Lada Togliatti.

With this squad, Zvezda are fighting for their second Russian title, something they have been attempting since 2007. And they have also set a minimum target for the EHF Champions League of  reaching the Main Round. In the Group Matches the Russians face defending champions Budućnost, three times EHF Champions League winner Viborg from Denmark and German champions Thüringer HC.

Zdravko Zovko, who is also manager of the team, is looking forward to a new challenge: “16 top teams compete for this most important trophy. It is our dream to be part of the top four teams of the Champions League.”

Team captain Oxana Koroleva was happy to qualify for the Group Matches – but is confident that they can be more successful than in the previous seasons: “We have quite an experienced team and I think we can beat some strong European opponents.

“We intend to put on a good performance and reach the Main Round. Each team in our group – Budućnost, Viborg and Thüringer HC – have strong squads and it will be very interesting to test ourselves on this level.”

“I believe we can make something big happen in Europe this season,” said Macedonian Zvezda newcomer Julia Nikolić, who – lile Lacrabére – arrived from French champions Brest: “We have great chances in all the competitions,” added Nikolić.

Three questions to coach Zdravko Zovko: What are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League?

Zdravko Zovko: I expect that my team will play an important role in our group in the fight to advance to the Main Round. Our group is very strong: defending champions Buducnost, Viborg  - one of the most successful club in this competition - and the very ambitious German champions Thüringer HC, so it will be difficult to achieve this goal. What does participating in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club?
Zdravko Zovko: For our club the participation in the EHF Champion League is a big commitment and recognition of our consistent play, and a great chance to present Russian handball in Europe. What teams are your personal favourites to win the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why?
Zdravko Zovko: This season my favourite clubs are Györ because they are last season's finalist with new reinforcements and a desire to win the EHF Champion League, Also Vâlcea because of the new players like Navarro, Pineau, Bulatović and the new coach – they are one of the best teams. Budućnost could be strong, and I hope Zvezda, because with our new reinforcements I believe that my team is good enough to get in the semi-finals. But teams like Krim, Larvik, Podravka, Randers... they can all achieve the same goal like us.

Zvezda Zvenigorod (RUS)
Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2012/13 season: Winners of Wildcard Tournament 3, third ranked in Russia
Newcomers: Maria Sidorova, Ekaterina Marennikova (both Lada Togliatti), Alexandra Lacrabére, Julia Nikolič (both Arvor 29 Brest/FRA), Anastasia Lobach (Dunarea Braila), Samira Rocha (Hypo NO)
Left the club: Nigina Saidova (Vardar), Marina Skladchikova (Rostov-Don), Tatiana Dronina (Kuban Krasnodar), Svetlana Pasicnik, Simona Spiridon (end of career), Daria Gruzdeva, Dina Sashurkova, Inga Gaijutite (both Luch Moscow), Olga Vinogradova
Coach: Zdravko Zovko, since 2011

Women’s EHF Champions League records:
Participations (including 2012/13 season):
Winner:  2007/08
Group Matches: 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
: 2006/07

Cup Winners’ Cup:
2009/10, 2010/11, 2011/12

Russian champions: 2007
Russian cup winners: 2008/09, 2009/10, 2010/11

Further information
Find more information about Zvezda Zvenogorod HERE
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TEXT: Björn Pazen