Preview of the Women´s EHF Champions League Semi-finals, first legArticle
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Györ and Larvik head into semis as favourites

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Preview of the Women´s EHF Champions League Semi-finals, first leg

The penultimate chapter of an enthralling EHF Champions League season starts on Saturday, with four teams entering the first legs of their semi-final ties hungry to win Europe’s most coveted club handball title.

Last year’s finalists Györi Audi ETO, the only unbeaten team in the competition this season, will start as slight favourites against Romania’s Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea in a battle which could be easily billed as “a final before the final.”

Larvik, the 2011 champions who were beaten by outgoing holders Budućnost Podgorica in last term’s semis, have high hopes of doing better this time although Slovenian title-holders Krim Mercator will be no pushovers.  

Whatever happens, Saturday’s doubleheader is set to produce top quality handball and a pair of fascinating battles as Europe’s finest take centre stage.

Oltchim Ramnicu Valcea (ROU) vs Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN)
Saturday, 18:00 hours local time in Bucharest

What a contest handball fans in Europe have on their hands when these two eastern European rivals meet for a berth in this season’s EHF Champions League final.

Györ have been an unstoppable machine so far, having won all their 12 games en route to the semis and did so as emphatically as even their most partisan fans might have expected.

Apart from a slender 23:22 success at Budućnost after they had already sealed their berth, the Hungarian champions took apart their rivals by at least five goals in every other game and sent a clear message that denying them again would take something special.

If anyone can prove to be a stumbling block, it is a gritty Oltchim team boasting the world’s best right back in Montenegrin sharpshooter Katarina Bulatović and several other players who showed the makings of champions when the chips were down.

Oltchim looked down and out after losing their opening two Main Round games but then won four on the trot to reach the last four and set the stage for what should be an enthralling contest with Györ.

Györ’s Spanish coach Amrbos Martin stressed his team would need to be at their best to live up to huge expectations from their fans, who are craving for the elusive trophy after last season’s agonising defeat to Budućnost on away goals.

“Saturday’s game should bring the best out of all my players and we must now prove that we are a strong team capable of going all the way,” he said. “We have a good chance of winning if we ruthlessly exploit Oltchim’s weaknesses and make the most of our advantages but that will be easier said than done. We have to keep our own shortcomings down to a minimum and I am confident because I can see the players are hungry to play and win.”

Larvik HK (NOR) vs RK Krim Mercator (SLO)
Saturday, 15:15 hours local time in Larvik

Having suffered a crushing defeat to Budućnost in last season’s one-sided semi-final, 2011 champions Larvik now have every chance of redeeming themselves and having another go at the crown.

Compared to the 2011/12 outfit, Larvik have been boosted by the return of legendary playmaker Gro Hammerseng, while a Krim side packed with international talent have had to battle injuries all season on a bumpy road to the last four.

Coach Tone Tiselj, who was forced to field makeshift lineups throughout the injury-plagued season and has done so with a considerable amount of success, was still hopeful some of his striking pins would be ready to fire in Krim’s most important match of the season.

“Their style of play is no secret to us but the question is if we will be able to counter it. We have to try to take advantage of their few weaknesses, one of them being a slow transition from offence to defence,” he told a news conference.

That particular shortcoming has played a huge part in Larvik’s two convincing Main Round defeats by competition favourites Györ, as the star-studded Norwegian outfit conceded more goals than they would have liked to on the road to the last four.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / br