Much at stake in race for semi-final berthsArticle
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Preview for the Women's EHF Champions League Main Round, Match Day 4

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Much at stake in race for semi-final berths

The second half of the Women's EHF Champions League Main Round brings the reverse fixtures of the previous match day’s battles and once again there is so much at stake and everything to play for.

Defending champions Budućnost Podgorica visit Randers knowing they must beat the Danes again if they are to keep alive any hopes of reaching the semi-finals, while Györi Audi ETO are at home to Larvik in what is shaping up to be a clash for the top spot in Group 1.

Romania’s Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea are very much in the same position as Budućnost – they need to beat Zvezda in Russia after overcoming them on home court to stay in contention for a top-two finish in Group 2.

Krim Mercator will be looking to bounce back from their four-goal defeat at FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria when they take on the Hungarian side in Ljubljana on Sunday.

Both Hungarian teams will qualify for the semi-finals should they at least gain one point with Budocnost in Group 1 and Oltchim in Group 2 losing at the same time.

If the currently last ranked teams in Groups 1 and 2, Randers and Zvezda, lose and Larvik and Krim Mercator (both teams are currently on four points in their respective group) gain at least one point, the former two teams will be out of contention for the semi-finals.


Group 1: Randers HK (DEN) vs Budućnost Podgorica (MNE)  

Saturday, 2 March, 15:00 hrs local time in Randers

The defending champions collected their first two main round points in last match day’s home win over Randers, but if they don’t emulate the result in what will surely be a difficult outing in Denmark, they will retain only a slim chance of advancing to the semi-finals.

Budućnost will once again rely on the shooting prowess of the competition’s top scorer Milena Knežević (74 goals so far), who netted 10 times in her team’s 24:22 success in Podgorica, while they have also been boosted by the return of winger Majda Mehmedović and Macedonian right back Elena Gjeorgjijevska after a lengthy absence through injury.

Line player Dragana Cvijić said she was confident Budućnost could notch a second successive win that would leave them in contention to defend their crown.

"I believe we will play better in Denmark than we did in Podgorica and a win would both put us back in the race for the semi-finals as well as ensure two more big games in the main round," she said.

"My optimism is based on the apparent rise of form and this team has proved that we can beat any opposition," added Cvijić.

Randers, for their part, will welcome new signing Kathrine Heindahl after the 20-year old international line player joined the Danish side from compatriots Team Tvis Holstebro.

Her arrival should be a major bonus for Randers, who may be out of the reckoning for a semi-final berth but have pride to play for after losing their opening three main round matches.

"I followed my feelings and I think my chances for personal development look pretty good at Randers," Heindahl told the club’s official website.

"One of my future goals is to become a national team regular at senior level and obviously I hope that joining Randers will bring me closer to it," she added, having captained Denmark’s U20 team in last summer’s Women's Junior World Championship   


Group 1: Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs Larvik (NOR)

Saturday, 2 March, 16:00 hrs local time in Györ

Györ’s emphatic win over Larvik in Norway showed in no uncertain terms that the Hungarian champions are the prime candidates to win the continent’s flagship club competition this season, having suffered a heartbreaking defeat to Budućnost on away goals last term.

Although Larvik are formidable opposition capable of holding their own against the strongest opposition, Gyor’s current form suggests they will start as favourites to complete the double over the 2011 EHF Champions League winners and virtually seal a semi-final berth.

Györ coach Amrbos Martin concurred that applying the same script that worked to such great effect in Larvik was his team’s game plan on home court in front of a vociferous home crowd.

"We contained their attacking talent with strong defence and having weathered their early onslaught, we transformed from defence to attack well to take full advantage of our fast breaks.

We need to do that again to beat Larvik for the second time," Martin told the club’s website.

But he also struck a note of caution: "We have to keep improving in every match and training session, week after week.

"We still haven’t secured our passage to the semi-finals although we are three out of three in the main round, so we have to remain focused and keep performing to the best of our abilities," added the Spaniard.

The depth of Györ’s roster, with eight players scoring in the 24:18 thumping of Larvik in Norway, could once again be a telling factor when the two sides meet in Hungary.

Larvik, on the other hand, will hope their top four performers can combine for more than just 13 goals that Linn-Kristin Koren Riegelhuth, Anja Edin, Gro Hammerseng and Lynn-Jorum Sulland scored on home court.


Group 2: Krim Mercator (SLO) vs FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)

Sunday, 3 March, 19:30 hrs local time in Ljubljana   

FTC may have emerged as the Women's EHF Champions League surprise package this season but they now figure as one of the competition’s top contenders after three impressive main round wins.

Their sound 30:26 defeat of Krim in Dabas two weeks ago showed in no uncertain terms that the winners of two successive Cup Winners' Cup titles in the last two seasons are gunning for the most coveted trophy in women’s club handball this term.

The match produced a fascinating shooting contest between FTC left back Zsuzsanna Tomori and her Krim opposite number Andrea Penezić, with the Hungarian scoring a game-high 10 goals to edge her Croatian rival who netted nine times for the Slovenian champions.

Spanish winger Carmen Martin Berenguer, who has been rock solid for Krim throughout the season, made it clear where her team needed to improve in order to turn the tables on FTC.

"We have to play better defence because this is where we fell short in Hungary," she told a news conference in Ljubljana ahead of the eagerly awaited encounter.

"We can allow no dips in form like we did last weekend, we have to pace ourselves because it’s going to be a tense and demanding match from start to finish," added the speedy right wing.

A win would almost certainly see FTC advance to the last four, while Krim need the two points to keep the upper hand in what is developing into a breathless race for a semi-final berth.


Group 2: Zvezda Zvenigorod (RUS) vs Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea (ROU) 

Saturday, 3 March, 17:00 hrs local time in Zvenigorod  

The opening two Main Round defeats must have come as a complete shock to an expensively assembled Oltchim team but they responded well with a home win over Zvezda Zvenigorod which rekindled their hopes of reaching the semi-finals.

Reaching the last four was the minimum objective the club’s owners set after Oltchim signed Danish coach Jakob Vestergaard and Montenegrin right back Katarina Bulatović, who won last season’s Women's EHF Champions League with Budućnost Podgorica and then steered the Adriatic nation to the EHF EURO 2012 title in December.

The Romanian title holders warmed up for the trip to Zvenigorod with three comfortable wins in their national league but Vestergaard acknowledged that overcoming adversity in Europe’s premier club competition will in all likelihood be a different prospect.

"We are still an adapting team with many new players and it won’t be easy to qualify, but I am confident we can win all of our three remaining matches in the main round,” he said.

Asked if he had one eye on the upcoming crunch games against FTC and Krim Mercator, Vestergaard said: “No, I think it’s not good to focus on so many matches at once.

"Zvezda still have everything to play for and knowing that we are in big trouble if we don’t win on Saturday should motivate my team to perform."

Bulatović, who has had several quiet games for Oltchim in Europe thus far, was back to her vintage best against Zvezda and fired on all cylinders as she drilled in 10 goals to propel her team to victory.

Ukrainian right wing Iulia Managarova can also make the difference in the reverse fixture, as might Zvezda’s left back Liudmila Postnova who led the Russian outfit with six goals in Ramnicu Valcea.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / ts