Preview of Women´s EHF Champions League Round 2Article
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Defending champions Budućnost takes on three times trophy winners from Viborg

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Preview of Women´s EHF Champions League Round 2

The second round of the group matches brings several exciting derbies, namely the highly anticipated clash between high-flying Ferencvaros and 2011 EHF Champions League winners Larvik, who have welcomed back their inspirational playmaker Gro Hammerseng.

Holders Budućnost Podgorica, who made a perfect start with an emphatic home win over Zvezda Zvenigorod, will take another test of their revamped team’s credentials when they visit three-time European club champions Viborg.

A rejuvenated Oltchim Vâlcea are away to Buxtehude and will expect a second successive win after beating Hypo, while Croatia’s Podravla Vegeta entertain Slovenia’s Krim Mercator in what should be a rip-roaring regional battle for supremacy.
Group A:
Buxtehuder SV (GER ) vs Oltchim Rm. Vâlcea (ROU)

Saturday, 15:00 hrs local time in Hamburg

The much-fancied Romanian team, seen as one of the favourites to win this season’s EHF Champions League, will head to Hamburg confident of stretching their good start to two games after a convincing performance in last weekend’s comprehensive win over Hypo.

Led by Katarina Bulatović, who scored 10 goals against the Austrian side, Oltchim should have too much firepower for Buxtehude. The German outfit sent shock waves throughout the handball world when they eliminated Byasen Trondheim to reach the group stage of the competition, but stunning Oltchim, who also boast the likes of Alexandrina Barbosa, Cristina Neagu and new coach Jakob Vestergaard, will in all likelihood be an incomparably tougher task.

Lone Fischer stands out as Buxtehude’s driving force and was the team’s top performer in Monday’s 36:26 at Randers, hence the home fans will expect another display of individual skill from her even if the German upstarts stand only a slim chance of winning their first points of the campaign.

Hypo NÖ (AUT) vs Randers HK (DEN)
Saturday, 20:25 hrs local time in Maria Enzersdorf

Still licking their wounds after putting up a spirited fight in the 30:25 defeat at Oltchim, Hypo need to get hyped up for what should be a delicately tight battle with Randers. The Danish team stated their intentions in no uncertain terms with an impressive all-round performance against Buxtehude and their well-balanced team has every chance of making the Main Round for the first time in the club’s history after last season’s double flop.

They were relegated to the Cup Winners´ Cup after finishing third in the EHF Champions League Group Matches and then knocked out of the second-tier competition by Zvezda Zvenigorod, but the ease with which seven new players gelled into the team, as they replaced the nine who left to ply their trade elsewhere, suggests they could be serious contenders this time round.

Hypo, whose roster is packed with Brazilian talent personified by eight players from the South American country in their ranks, put on a good show against Oltchim but will need to step up their efforts if they are to overpower Randers in what could be a crucial battle for the runners-up spot guaranteeing a berth in the Main Round. It would be their first after being knocked out in the Group Matches three times in a row.  

“The convincing performance against Buxtehude surprised me a bit, we knew they were a fast team and we knew where to set in to stop them,” Randers coach Jan Leslie told after the opening win. “We will need many more performances like this to qualify for the top eight,” he added.

Group B
U Jolidon Cluj (ROU) vs Györi Audi ETO (HUN)
Saturday, 17:30 hrs local time in Cluj Napoca

Cluj, the newcommers in Europe’s premier club competition, nearly snatched an unlikely point last weekend at Krim Mercator, when they ran out of time to spring an upset in a 28:27 defeat to the Slovenians. Their home court debut brings the toughest of opponents to town in last year’s losing finalists Györi Audi ETO, whose arrival is bound to create a cracking atmosphere in a jam-packed Cluj Napoca hall.

The Hungarians were made to work hard for the opening 24:19 win against Podravka and overpowered the Croatians thanks to more depth on the bench, a telling factor which should also make the difference against the Romanian national league runners-up.

Serbian Andrea Lekić had a quiet game against Podravka with only three goals to her name, but Györ were still too strong for their Croatian rivals as Brazilian Eduarda Amorim rifled in five after missing a barrage of shots early on, while Anita Görbicz added four. Norwegian pivot Heidi Løke and Adrienn Orbán also chipped in with three goals apiece and the well-balanced scoring chart testifies to Györ’s ability to mount a serious challenge in their bid to finally win the elusive EHF Champions League trophy.

HC Podravka Vegeta vs Krim Mercator (SLO)
Sunday, 17:30 hrs local time in Koprivnica

Enter Andrea Penezić – if only. The towering left back, who shone in the 2012 Olympics before a painful ankle injury ended her and Croatia’s hopes of winning a medal, will be sorely missed when these two teams lock horns in Koprivnica. Krim have already felt the effects of her absence in last weekend’s fortuitous home win against Cluj, while she still remains firmly in the hearts of fans in Koprivnica having played at Podravka for two years before she joined the Slovenian champions.

Buoyed by a solid performance at Györ despite a five-goal defeat by the Hungarian title holders, Podravka coach Neven Hrupec was oozing with confidence ahead of the eagerly awaited clash with Krim. “They have a great coach in Tone Tiselj and there are no secrets between these two teams because we know all their weak spots and they know ours. What I can promise to the fans is a spectacular game of handball and I am 100 percent convinced we will win,” Hrupec told Croatian media.

“Obviosuly, Krim need time to start firing on all cylinders, they have 10 new players and will have to work hard to achieve their goal of reaching the semi-finals, because had their game against Cluj lasted another 10 minutes it might have been a different outcome,” he added.
Once again, Hrupec is likely to rely on lethal Serbian shooter Sanja Damjanović, who scored nine goals in an outstanding individual performance against Györ.

Krim, on the other hand, edged Cluj thanks to a blistering start and a 6:1 early lead against the overawed visitors, who came to life as the match progressed and came close to spoiling the party in Ljubljana. German left back Susann Müller was at the heart of the win with nine goals and is likely to be Krim’s main weapon again as they take on considerably tougher opposition embodied by Podravka.

Group C
IK Sävehof (SWE) vs Dinamo Volgograd (RUS)

Sunday, 16:00 hrs local time in Partille

Both teams suffered heavy defeats in the opening round and will therefore be looking to bounce back in order to haul themselves back into the race for a spot in the Main Round.

The winner between these two is more likely to grab the consolation prize of finishing third and progressing to the Cup Winners´ Cup from the Group Matches, with Ferencváros and Larvik seemingly too strong for either the Swedish or the Russian side.

Dinamo should be the favourites but their 37:21 demolition at the hands of Ferencváros has cast doubts over their ability this season. They have a proven goalscorer in Tatiana Khmyrova but their flat defending in the opening game could present Sävehof with a real chance of collecting their first points of the campaign.

The Swedish side had nothing to be ashamed of in a 39:31 defeat by Larvik, having held their own for long spells against the 2011 Champions League winners who were bolstered by the return to European action of the mercurial Gro Hammerseng. With a vociferous home crowd behind them, Sävehof just might pull of an upset and give their fans plenty to cheer about.  

FTC Rail Cargo Hungária (HUN) vs Larvik (NOR)
Sunday, 18:00 hrs local time in Dabas

Definitely the match of the weekend. Ferencváros were impressive in their rout of Dinamo Volgograd and will head into this mouth-watering clash intent on proving that they have the makings of a Championship-winning side. The victory over the Russian opponents has given FTC a massive confidence boost and their coach Gábor Elek made no secret of that.

When asked by if he expected his team to make such a flying start, Elek said: “Not at all. But I now have to say we need to keep our feet on the ground as we haven’t suddenly become the favourited to win the Champions League. However, we shoed we deserve to be here and everyone has to think about us as a serious threat.”

Larvik will most certainly have taken notice of FTC’s impressive all round performance against Dinamo and will not make the mistake of underestimating the hunger of Hungary’s top team to finally win Europe’s elite club competition, having won two successive Cup Winners Cup titles in the past two seasons.

It is hard to tell who might prevail and how strong Larvik are, as they let their foot off their gas pedal in the 39:31 home win over Sävehof after racing into an insurmountable early lead. FTC’s lethal offence suggests Larvik might have to close their ranks and player much tougher defence than they did in the opening match, although their strongest traits are at the other end of the court.

The ageless Hammerseng, who scored five goals against Sävehof on her return to the EHF Champions League after pregnancy and maternity leave, Lynn Jørum Sulland and Korin Riegelhuth are a devastating attacking trio able to carve open the strongest rivals. But so is the home team’s trio of Zsuzsanna Tomori, Nerea Pena Abaurrea and Zita Szucsánszki, meaning that the two highest-scoring in the opening round could produce an avalanche of goals between them.

On the other hand, they are also likely to engage in a tough, tactical battle and make it much more difficult for each other to score. IN any case, their encounter is bound to be a spectacular one and a real handball feast.

Group D
Viborg HK (DEN) vs Budućnost Podgorica (MNE)  

Sunday, 1700 hrs local time in Viborg

The visit to the winners of three Champions League titles will be a real test of character for holders Budućnost, whose youthful outfit stunned everyone with a 29:21 win over Zvezda Zvenigorod in the opening game last weekend. With the squad’s average age at 20 after virtually all their stalwarts left the club or retired, the Montenegrin giants were only expected to be this season, aiming to rebuild and construct a side capable of repeating the feat at some distant point in the future.

It would, of course be audacious to expect Budućnost to win the Champions League again, with so many stronger rivals standing in the way and some of them bolstered by their own players, but their impressive display against Zvezda, garnished by maturity not akin to such a young team, has given coach Dragan Adžić hope that they can be serious contenders.

„Many times in my coaching career, especially in the last two years, I have bene proud of my players but today I am particularly proud of them,“ Adžić told after seeng his team take Zvezda apart.

„I believe this victiry will give new energy and faith to our yoiung team for the future, to beat teams which are, at least on paper, stronger than ourselves and Zvezda certainly figured as one of those. We have taken a big step towards our goal of reaching the Main Round,“ he added.

The defending champions will miss Macedonian right back Elena Gjeorgievska, who suffered a serious ankle injury in the early stages of the match against Zvezda which has sidelined her for the rest of the year. „It is a big loss for us, she has great potential and other players will have to compensate for her absence,“ said Adžić.

Viborg were stung in the opening 34:30 defeat at German champions Thüringer HC and will be under all the pressure to bounce back in front of their home fans. The result was the shock of the week and Viborg, who entered this season’s Champions League with the highest ambitions, will certainly want to avoid another one with their name making the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

The Danish giants certainly have the potential to get going but will have to solidify their defence, which leaked goals left, right and centre last weekend. Isabelle Gulden, Maria Fisker and Rikke Skov should provide enough firepower at the other end as Viborg will need all the ammunition they have at their disposal against Budućnost’s steely defence led by outstanding German goalkeeper Clara Woltering.

Viborg sorely missed the injured Norwegian pivot Marit Malm Frafjord against Thüringer and her continued absence is likely to pose more problems for the Danish team.

Zvezda Zvenigorod (RUS) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs local time in Chekhov

Zvezda and THC will head into this match with contrasting moods but with a single ambition, to collect two precious points in the battle to stay in Europe or even advance to the Champions League Main Round.

While Zvezda looked a pale shadow of their usual selves in Podgorica, Thüringer HC produced a scintillating performance against Viborg and the win made sure they already surpassed last season’s achievement, when they won just one point in six Group Matches.

Their coach Herbert Müller has strengthened his squad and the transfer activity bore fruit as Anja Althaus scored three goals against her former club while fellow Dane Mie Augustesen, who arrived from Randers, added four.

Serbian goalkeeper Katarina Tomašević, who joined THC from Serbian champions RK Zaječar, was outstanding between the posts and the effervescent displays by the new arrivals made it easy for top scorer Lýdia Jakubisová to shine with six goals on her account.

Macedonian left back Julija Nikolić, who scored seven goals against Budućnost, should spearhead Zvezda’s effort to avoid another shock and Liudmila Postnova is expected to provide the much-needed support after netting five times in Podgorica.

If they are to keep alive their hopes of advancing either to the Main Round or at least the Cup Winners´ Cup as the third-placed team, Zvezda will need to reproduce some of the Wild Card qualification tournament form when they made light work of progressing past Issy Paris and Leipzig. They have found playing at a high level more demanding and will hence need to step up their efforts if they are to make an impact in Europe.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / br