Preview of Women´s EHF Champions League Round 3Article
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Emotional return of Andrea Lekić to Ljubljana

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Preview of Women´s EHF Champions League Round 3

With the battle for Main Round berths shaping up among the big guns, the third weekend of Group Matches in the Women’s EHF Champions League offers another round of enticing clashes between Europe’s top teams.

Riding high after two wins out of two, holders Budućnost Podgorica visit Germany’s Thüringer HC hoping to move a step closer towards the last eight, as do the competition’s favourites, Oltchim Vâlcea, when they travel to Denmark to face Randers.

Ferencváros, who also made a perfect start, are overwhelming favourites at home to Sweden’s IK Sävehof, while the match of the weekend brings Andrea Lekić’s emotional return to Ljubljana, when she puts on her Györ Audi ETO shirt to face her former club Krim Mercator.

Group A:
Buxtehuder SV (GER ) vs Hypo NÖ (AUT)

Sunday, 15:00 hrs local time in Hamburg

Having beaten Randers at home after losing the opener at Oltchim, Hypo now face a vital away game at Buxtehuder SV which they must win if they are to keep a realistic chance of reaching the Main Round.

Although they did well to qualify for the group stage of Europe’s elite club competition at the expense of Norway’s Byåsen Trondheim, Buxtehuder  have so far offered little evidence that they can progress to the last eight or even finish third, which would send them into the Cup Winners´ Cup.

With Denmark’s Randers and Hypo the most likely candidates to battle it our for the runners-up spot, Austria’s giants know that any slip-up against their German rivals could be costly and will head into the match under pressure of being the favourites against a team with nothing to lose.

Randers HK (Den) vs Oltchim Rm. Vâlcea (ROU)
Saturday, 1500 hrs local time in Randers

Randers suffered a comprehensive defeat at Hypo last weekend but have only a slim chance of bouncing back straight away, as they are up against arguably the strongest team in this season’s competition.

Questions as to how quickly a new-look Oltchim team will take to gel and start firing on all cylinders were emphatically answered with two convincing victories – a 30:25 home win over Hypo followed by an impressive 34:15 away demolition of Buxtehuder.

Montenegrin right back Katarina Bulatović instantly became the team leader, rifling in a total of 17 goals in those two games and her team mates also showed outstanding form at the start of the season.

However, they will not take a win for granted at Randers, a strong home team whose fans are known for creating a cracking atmopshere which can intimidate even the most solid opposition.

Group B
U Jolidon Cluj (ROU) vs HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO)

Saturday, 1730 local time in Cluj Napoca

Cluj will be hoping for their first Champions League in their debut season, after losing narrowly to Krim and then giving last season’s finalists Györ a good run for their money last weekend.

With their frenetic fans behind them in the heart of Transylvania, Cluj will certainly be confident that they can overpower the Croatian champions who are also in desperate need of the two points.

Podravka have high hopes of reaching the Main Round this season and their expectations were amplified by last weekend’s 25:22 home win over Krim Mercator, by the looks of things their main rivals for the runners-up spot.

Györ look set to win the group and the battle for the second Main Round berth in the group could come down to whether Krim or Podravka get a better result against Cluj.

Impressed by Podravka’s performance against Krim, Croatia’s national team coach Vladimir Canjuga said he was confident the former European club champions could go a long way this season.

“I saw Cluj against Krim for the first time and certainly, to finish second in the group Podravka will need to beat the Romanian side twice. Judging by their fantastic performance against an expensively assembled Krim side, I think Podravka have every chance of reaching the Main Round,” Canjuga told Croatian media.  

Krim Mercator (SLO) vs Györ Audi ETO (HUN)
Sunday, 19:30 hrs local time in Ljubljana

Andrea Lekić would have had a memorable first season at Györ, if only the Hungarian giants had not suffered a heart-stopping defeat by Budućnost Podgorica in last season’s spectacular final.

This time round, Györ’s long road to the season-ending climax takes them to Lekić’s former club Krim Mercator, where the Serbian middle back matured into a world-class player in the four years she spent with the Slovenian side from 2007-2011.

While it will certainly be an emotional return for the 25-year old Lekić to Ljubljana, she appears completely focused on the task ahead, which is to collect another two points from a difficult away game.

“Everything is going according to script now, we beat Cluj in a raucous atmosphere in Romania after overpowering Podravka at home in the opening round,” Lekić said on her official website.

„We now want to make it three wins out of three, it will be an emotional return for me to Ljubljana and what we have to do is keep up our high tempo for the entire 60 minutes this time, because we took our feet of the gas pedal in the second half against Cluj,“ she added.

Krim will still be decimated by injuries to some of their top players, including Croatian playmaker Andrea Penezić who is also in danger of misisng EHF EURO 2012 with a niggling ankle injury she sustained during the London Olympics.

Spanish right wing Carmen Martin Berenguer and German right back Susann Müller should be their best hopes of pulling off an upset against Györ, one that would come in handy after the Podravka defeat.  

Group C
Dinamo Volgograd (RUS) vs Larvik
Sunday, 16:00 hrs local time in Volgograd  

Yet another crucial match this weekend as both sides will be looking for a second win to nose ahead in their quest to finish among the top two teams and advance to the Main Round.

Dinamo will be on a high after beating Sävehof last weekend while Larvik, the 2011 Champions League winners, have plenty to worry about following a tame defeat at Ferencváros. The Norwegian side have Gro Hammerseng back in their ranks but while they have played relatively well in attack in the first two games, their defending has left a lot to be desired.

Especially worrying for Larvik is the fact that their sharpshooter Linn Jørum Sulland, who netted 10 times in the opening 39:31 win over Sävehof, failed to score a single goal at Ferencváros last weekend, while veteran goalkeeper Cecilie Leganger was also below par. Still, they should start at least on an even keel against the Russians, whose scoring workload against Sävehof was shared by 11 players – led by 22-year old prodigy Tatiana Khmyrova.

Dinamo are a well-balanced outfit with a style similar to Larvik’s – lots of goals flying in at both ends of the court. Hence this match should be a very entertaining one with a highly unpredictable outcome.

FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN) vs IK Sävehof (SWE)
Saturday, 19:00 hrs local time in Dabas

This one could be the mismatch of the weekend, as Ferencváros are the odds-on favourites against their Swedish rivals to notch a third win and put one foot into the Main Round. The Hungarian team’s emphatic wins over Dinamo and Larvik in the opening two rounds leave little room for doubt that they should have a straightforward task against Sävehof.

A rock-solid 6-0 defence is fortified by the outstanding Melinda Pastrovics in goal, while left back Zsuzsanna Tomori has spearheaded the attack in the opening two games, scoring a total of 12 goals. Anything except a massive win for FTC would be a huge surprise in this clash of David and Goliath, with Ferencváros aiming for the silverware in Europe’s top club competition after winning two successive Cup Winners´ Cup trophies.  

Group D
Thüringer HC (GER) vs Budućnost Podgorica (MNE)  

Sunday, 15:00 hrs local time in Nordhausen

The reigning champions lit up the opening two rounds with inspired performances against Zvezda and notably last weekend at Viborg, where they romped to a 26:20 win with their talent-packed team.

In Milena Knežević, a 22-year old back emerging into a rising star, Budućnost have the Champions League top scorer with 19 goals to her name, including eight against three-times European champions Viborg. But she will not be the only menace THC will face on Sunday, as the outstanding middle back Anđela Bulatović keeps providing the necessary support and last weekend she also shone in Denmark with seven goals.

Wingers Majda Mehmedović and Radmila Miljanić have been clinical when presented with the opportunity to score while Clara Woltering has so far been the most impressive goalkeeper in the EHF Champions League, meaning that the Montenegrin side will head into this game as clear favourites although Thüringer HC will take heart from the fact that they stunned Viborg in the opening game on their court.

Budućnost won both games against the German champions at the same stage of the competition last season and their coach Dragan Adžić knows an identical outcome would put his team within striking distance of the Main Round.

„We made a bid step towards our goal of reaching the last eight but we now need two more wins to make it to the Main Round,“ he said after seeing his team dismantle Viborg. „We know that every game will be tough and demanding and in Germany we will try to maintain the level we had in the first two games,“ he added.

Viborg HK (DEN) vs Zvezda Zvenigorod (RUS)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs local time in Viborg  

This should be an intriguing clash as both Viborg and Zvezda are an unknown quantity this season. Viborg, who won the EHF Champions League three times, are in trouble after losing both their opening games and desperately need a win to haul themselves back into contention for one of the top two spots in the group.

A shock first-round defeat at Thüringer HC was followed by the home fiasco against Budućnost, when the Danish team clearly lacked bite up front while they also struggled defensively.

Viborg are sorely missing their injured Norwegian line player Marit Malm Frafjord, her absence limiting their options up front and also causing problems in defence. Zvezda will hope that their 17-year old middle back Anna Vyakhireva repeats last weekend’s performance, when she rifled in 10 goals against Thüringer HC to lead her team to victory.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / br