Preview of Women´s EHF Champions League Round 5Article
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Last four Main Round spots still at stake.

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Preview of Women´s EHF Champions League Round 5

With four teams already sealing their Main Round berths, another four spots are up for grabs and some of them could be clinched on a Sunday of derbies. The most exciting clash is expected in Koprivnica, where HC Podravka Vegeta take on last season’s finalists Györi Audi ETO hoping to join them in the last eight.

Hypo can also ensure their progress over competition favourites Oltchim Vâlcea, who are undefeated in Europe’s premier club handball competition this season. With FTC and Larvik already through from Group C, the attention now turns to the battle for third place and a berth in the Cup Winners´ Cup, as Dinamo Volgograd aim to finish ahead of Swedish champions IK Sävehof.

Finally, a three-way battle for the top two spots in a tough Group D could take another twist as holders Budućnost Podgorica visit a rejuvenated Zvezda Zvenigorod, who racked up three wins in a row after losing the opener in the Montenegrin capital. German champions Thüringer HC, who are also in contention, are away to Viborg and the Danish side are yet to win a single point in what has so far been a disappointing season.  

Group A:
Hypo NÖ (AUT) vs Oltchim Rm.  Vâlcea  (ROU)

Sunday, 17:00 hrs local time in Maria Enzesrdorf

Having already sealed their berth in the last eight, Oltchim could use this game to give some second-string players a chance to shine and rest the key performers who carried the Romanian champions into the Main Round.

Hypo, on the other hand, will be eager to clinch the point they need to secure the runners-up spot and make sure they are in contention for their ninth EHF Champions League title after the winter break.

It should be an intriguing contest, as Oltchim will certainly aim to keep their perfect record intact while they will also be wary of falling behind Hypo on their head-to-head record, as winning the group could mean avoiding some of the other giants in the Main Round.

Buxtehuder SV (GER) vs Randers HK (DEN)  
Sunday, 15:00 hrs local time in Hamburg  

Randers are clutching to straws in their bid to finish second in the group and grab their Main Round ticket, but even a win at Buxtehude will not be enough if Hypo come away with anything against Oltchim.

Finishing third and proceeding to the Cup Winners´ Cup is a more realistic target for Randers, who have the cushion of a 10-goal advantage from the first game in their head-to-head battle with the German side.

Finishing third is the best Buxtehude can hope for and in order to haul themselves back into the race for a Cup Winners´ Cup spot, they need to beat Randers on Sunday and then hope both results go their way on the final day of the Group Matches.

Group B
U Jolidon Cluj (ROU) vs RK Krim Mercator (SLO)

Sunday, 16:30 local time in Cluj Napoca

Another likely battle for third place will undoubtedly draw a full house in the heart of Transylvania, where Cluj will be looking for their first EHF Champions League win. The Romanian runners-up gave injury-hit Krim a good run for their money in Ljubljana, losing narrowly after falling behind heavily on their debut in Europe’s top flight.

Krim would seal a Cup Winners´ Cup berth with a win while they would also stay in the reckoning for a top two finish in case Podravka lost to Györ on home court in Koprivnica.

Such a scenario would perfectly play into the hands of the Slovenian champions, who would then need a four-goal home win against Podravka in the final group match to squeeze into the last eight and confine the Croatian title holders to third place.

But with influential Croatian sharpshooter Andrea Penezić still sidelined through injury, beating Cluj in front of a passionate Romanian crowd in Napoca will be easier said than done for Krim.

HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO) vs Györi Audi ETO (HUN)
Sunday, 17:30 hrs local time in Koprivnica

Definitely the match of the weekend which should live up to the billing of being a clash of the titans, as cliché it may sound. Györ have already booked their passage to the Main Round but playing in front of a fervent Croatian crowd in a jam-packed Koprivnica Sports Hall is bound to bring the best out of last season’s runners-up.

Podravka, for their part, are on a mission to clinch their own place in the last eight and will need at least a draw to make sure that their visit to Krim Mercator in the last round is a dead rubber.

Their already difficult task has been made more demanding by a long-term injury to inspirational captain Miranda Tatari, who was carried off in last weekend’s 28:21 home win over Cluj with a painful knee injury, which in all likelihood means that she will also miss December’s eagerly awaited EHF EURO 2012 in Serbia.

Podravka will need their Serbian left back Sanja Damnjanović to fire on all cylinders and show all the traits of the competition’s second-highest top scorer. Her direct battle with compatriot and close friend Andrea Lekić, who is one of Györ’s most influential players, should be fascinating to watch.

Group C
FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN) vs Dinamo Volgograd (RUS)  

Sunday, 19:00 hrs local time in Dabas

FTC have nothing but pride and their unbeaten record to play for, having already sealed their Main Round berth with four straight wins. However, this is a great opportunity for Zita Szucsánszki and Zsuzsanna Tomori to move up the top scorers’ ladder.

The two back court players have so far been the driving force for Ferencváros in their bid to taste EHF Champions League success after winning a pair of back-to-back Cup Winners´ Cup titles.

As the dark horses of this season’s EHF Champions League, the Hungarian title holders will be determined to continue their impressive run and further boost their confidence ahead of the Main Round.

Dinamo have little to hope for after losing the reverse fixture at home 37:21, their porous defence offering little hope that they can avoid another heavy defeat in what has turned out to be very tough group for them.
IK Sävehof (SWE) vs Larvik (NOR)
Sunday, 15:00 hrs local time in Partille

This duel of Scandinavian rivals is bound to produce fireworks on the court as regional bragging rights will be at stake, if not passage to the next stage of the competition.

Larvik are already through, courtesy of their better head-to-head record with third-placed Dinamo, while Sävehof are still aiming to register their first EHF Champions League win of the season.

Two points would come in handy for both teams, as victory would leave Larvik in the hunt to win the group ahead of FTC, while two points for the Swedish champions could rekindle their hopes of finishing third and advancing to the latter stages of the Cup Winners´ Cup.

Group D
Viborg HK (DEN) vs Thüringer HC (GER)

Sunday, 17:00 hrs local time in Viborg  

Viborg must have hoped for a Main Round berth before the season began but their ambitions, hampered by a long-term injury to line player Marit Malm Frafjord, vanished in thin air after four successive defeats.

The only consolation available, a third-place finish that would guarantee a Cup Winners´ Cup berth, will also remain a far-fetched dream unless they beat THC by more than four goals to give themselves a fighting chance of leapfrogging them.

The German champions will be going all out for a win which would leave them firmly in contention to finish in the top two, a goal which seemed very distant when the groups were drawn.

Thüringer HC collected just one point from six Group Matches last season and now that they have quadrupled that tally in just four games, their appetites have grown. An unpredictable game is on the cards as only a win will do for either team.

Zvezda Zvenigorod (RUS) vs Budućnost Podgorica (MNE)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs local time in Chekhov   

The visit to Russia will be another stern test of the reigning champions’ credentials to retain the silverware. Written off as title contenders after losing almost their entire starting line-up during the summer break, Budućnost sent shockwaves through the competition with three wins out of four games engineered by a youthful team packed with talent.

Their lack of experience showed in a 24:20 defeat at Thüringer HC before they bounced back in style to crush the German side 23:15 on home court last weekend, thanks to another blistering performance by goalkeeper Clara Woltering and the competition’s top scorer Milena Knežević. But Budućnost will surely miss the former as the German captain will be resting on Sunday because of injuries.

Zvezda have also impressed, having put themselves in a position to win a Main Round berth with three straight wins after a tame 29:21 defeat in Podgorica on the opening day. They will rely on teenage prodigy Anna Vyakhireva, French right back Alexandra Lacrabère and Macedonian left back Julija Nikolić to keep up their good work.

Both team desperately need a win to stay in the driving seat for a spot in the last eight, with Thüringer HC breathing down their necks and hoping to find a way through.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / br