Györ, Budućnost and Larvik make winning startsArticle
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All home teams with victories in Round 1 of new Women´s EHF Champions League season on Saturday

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Györ, Budućnost and Larvik make winning starts

The opening day of the Women´s EHF Champions League Group Matches produced some superb goalkeeping, fiercely competitive action and a stellar performance by defending champions Budućnost Podgorica, whose youthful team showed they will be a force to be reckoned with although virtually all their stalwarts left the club during the summer break.

Larvik celebrated the return of their inspirational driving force Gro Hammerseng with an emphatic home win over Swedish neighbours while last season’s beaten finalists Györ were made to work hard for two points against Croatia’s Podravka Vegeta.

Group B
Györi Audi ETO (HUN) vs HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO) 24:19 (11:7)

Last season’s runners-up won a tough and physical contest thanks to a more balanced roster, with their top players sharing the scoring workload between them while Podravka relied almost entirely on their Serbian left back Sanja Damjanović, the game’s top scorer with nine goals.

Györ took time to get into their stride and the visitors capitalised on the home team’s slow start, taking a 4:1 lead and then going 7:5 ahead with the unstoppable Damjanović rifling her shots in from all angles. However, Podravka’s offence came to a screeching halt in the 18th minute and the home team stormed back as their Norwegian goalkeeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen pulled off one superb save after another.

Bizarrely, Györ failed to score in the final minute of the first half, when three Podravka players were suspended for two minutes in quick succession, but the home side romped to a 12:7 lead straight after the interval. Damjanović, who completely outshone her compatriot Andrea Lekić in the first half, kept her team in the match which seemed to be heading for a dramatic climax when she scored her seventh goal to cut the deficit to 13:11 in the 37th minute.

But Haraldsen then closed shop and the hosts, roared on by a sold-out arena, carved out a 20:15 advantage with Lekić and towering Brazilian sharpshooter Eduarda Amorim finally finding their range. There was no way back for Podravka as the athletic goalkeeper appeared to constitute a wall in front of her net while her team mates dismantled the Croatian champions with lethal finishing at the other end. Amorim finished the match as Györ’s top scorer with five goals and Haraldsen racked up a stunning 49 percent ratio of saves.

"We played very well in defence throughout the whole match, but the home team had more players to rotate and this proved to be a decisive factor," Damjanović said at the press conference.

"I would like to congratulate the home coach and my friend Ambros Martin to his first victory in the Champions League with a new club. It will be more important for us to focus on the next match, when we host Krim," Podravka´s coach Neven Hrupec said.

"It was my first match in the Champions league with Györ and I really enjoyed the magnificient atmosphere in the hall. I think we could be satisfied with our performance and the final result against a strong opponent. We are on the right way," Martin added.

Group C
Larvik (NOR) vs IK Sävehof (SWE) 39:31 (21:13)

A fast and free-flowing match between the two Scandinavian rivals was marked by an emotional comeback of Norway’s legendary stalwart Gro Hammerseng, who seems to have lost nothing of her speed, agility or shooting prowess in a spectacular return to action.

A blistering start gave Larvik a 7:1 lead inside the opening eight minutes as they scored an avalanche of easy goals against Sävehof, who fell victim to early stage fright against the 2011 EHF Champions League winners. Although the home team at times took their foot off the gas pedal in offence and also appeared a bit too relaxed in defence, they comfortably maintained their huge lead and took an eight-goal cushion into the dressing room at halftime.

Spurred on by the inspirational Hammerseng, Larvik moved up a gear after the break and their lead swelled to 32:20 in the 43rd minute. But the youthful visitors refused to lie down and kept going until the final whistle in an effort to make a good impression.

Indeed, they had every reason to go home with their heads high after holding their own for long spells against a vastly more experienced Larvik team, one of the favourites to win Europe’s elite club competition this season.

Linn Jørum Sulland topped the scoring chart with 10 goals for Larvik, Korin Riegelhuth netted six while Hammerseng and Isabela Blanco added five each for the home team. Ida Oden scored eight goals for Sävehof, followed by Jenny Alm with five, while Linne Blom, Louise Sand and Jamina Roberts chipped in with four each.

Group D
Budućnost Podgorica (MNE) vs Zvezda Zvenigorod (RUS) 29:21 (15:9)

With an average age of just 21 after virtually all their first-choice players either retired or moved to other clubs, the EHF Champions League holders produced a performance that last season’s outfit, boasting the likes of Katarina Bulatović, Maja Savić, Sonja Barjaktarević and Bojana Popović, would have been exceptionally proud of.

The latter, cheering on her revamped outfit from the bench as the team manager, must have wondered how a side as youthful as the one that demolished their much more experienced Russian rivals were able to find the kind of maturity akin only to tried and tested European giants.

A fast and furious start by the home side, who raced into a 5:1 lead on the back of a string of excellent saves by goalkeeper Clara Woltering, set the pattern for a one-sided contest in which Zvezda were trampled by hungrier and more energetic opposition.

The best the visitors could do was pull back to 6:5 midway through the first half but from there on it was one-way traffic as Milena Knežević led the charge in front of a passionate home crowd. With Woltering keeping out a bunch of sitters with a truly inspired performance, Claudine Mendy and Jelena Živković also turned on the heat as Zvezda had no reply for the home team’s speed and superior technical skills.

Their lead soared to 18:10 early in the second half and then 25:14 midway through the second period, a hardly believable gulf given the expectations that Budućnost were going to struggle to reproduce last season’s glittering form which took them all the way to the top.

The Russian team managed to reduce the gap back to single digits in the closing stages but a flurry of turnovers throughout the one-sided contest denied them a chance of getting a better result. Knežević capped a brilliant individual performance with a game-high 11 goals while Mendy added four.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / br