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Women’s EHF Champions League countdown, part 12: In 2013/14, WHC Vardar SCBT played a superb season that saw them become one of few teams to qualify for the EHF Champions League final in their debut year in the competition.

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Women's News


When WHC Vardar SCBT qualified for the FINAL4 in Budapest last season, it was the first time since 2007/08 that a team playing in their first ever Women’s EHF Champions League had progressed so far in the competition. When it happened six years ago, the team in question, Yevgeni Trefilov’s Zvezda Zvenigorod, won the title. 

Vardar were exceptional in the tight race for the FINAL4 2013/14 in Budapest, which ultimately saw them defeated in extra time of the semi-final against their local rivals, Buducnost. 

Now Vardar – who were anything but a debut team in terms of their squad even last season – have further bolstered their roster, bringing in several experienced players. 

German defence ace Anja Althaus, Croatian shooter Andrea Penezic and Russian duo Alena Ikhneva and Olga Chernoivanenko have all joined the Macedonian champions.

Vardar will not only count on their strengthened squad, but also on a new fortress: with a capacity of 5,500 and a name honouring a revolutionist, Jane Sandanski Arena is their new home. Jane Sandanski Arena will serve as the common home for the men’s and women’s Vardar sides, both of which are aiming to reach the FINAL4 of their respective EHF Champions Leagues. 

Fans in Jane Sandanski Arena will see a re-match of the thrilling 2014 semi-final a little sooner than expected, as Vardar were drawn in the same group as Buducnost for the group phase of the competition.

There will be yet more familiar faces when the team plays Thüringer HC – the German club came very close to upsetting Vardar’s hopes of FINAL4 qualification last season when the two sides fought to the last minute in an exciting main round match. Their third group phase opponent is former EHF Champions League winner Koprivnica from Croatia, winner of the qualification tournament. 

After gaining one year of experience and fine-tuning the structure of the team, Vardar is aiming high again. It is their clear goal to make it to Budapest – and their confidence has already been boosted by their major pre-season success. The Macedonian side won the high-class PwC Handball Fiesta – the clash of the European champions – in Györ. 

Manager Ana Mihajlovska expects her team to put on “a good performance, mainly as we have one year of Champions League experience. Last season we needed time to unite as a team, and this season that is exactly what should be our greatest asset. The players have been together for one season so they know each other better and that should be reflected in our game.

“Our opponents are well known. We faced Thüringer HC in last season’s main round and considering that no major changes were made to their team, they will be a known opponent.

"We met Buducnost several times in the 2013/14 season and I think the Montenegrin champions are another well-known team for us .They stepped up with Katarina Bulatovic, but Vardar SCBT have signed five quality handball players, so I am convinced that this season we will be even broader and stronger team,” said Mihajlovska, when asked about Vardar’s group phase opponents. 

Current World Handball Player of the Year, Serbian shooter and Vardar’s team captain, Andrea Lekic, expects the strong group to put on a show.

“Our opening match against Buducnost will be a real handball clash. They have the best defence and thanks to signing Bulatovic, they are a true candidate for winning the Champions League.

"Thüringer HC will not allow anyone to get the points until the last minute, and they can keep the speed high for 60 minutes. I believe we have more options this season and we are much more dangerous. We are working on improving our defence to use counter-attacks as a powerful weapon.”

Three questions to coach Indira Kastratovic:

Concerning your objectives and your group opponents, what are your expectations for the upcoming season of the Women’s EHF Champions League?

Indira Kastratovic: Taking into consideration that our group has two FINAL4 participants, this season will be more difficult than the previous one. We want to achieve the same goal as last season – to reach the FINAL4.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­Which does the participation in the Women’s EHF Champions League mean to you and your club? 

Indira Kastratovic: Champions League is a very important competition not only for our team but for the whole country. This is the most prestigious competition in all sports, not only handball, because only the champions are participating.

What teams are your personal favourites to reach the FINAL4 tournament of the Women’s EHF Champions League season – and why?

Indira Kastratovic: Of course all three remaining participants of the previous FINAL4, as they either kept the same squads or reinforced them, and Larvik. All those teams are currently playing the best women’s handball and their players are at the best moments of their careers.

Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2014/15 season: Macedonian champion


Anja Althaus (Thüringer HC)
Alena Ikhneva
Olga Chernoivanenko (both Lada Toljatti)
Barbara Lazovic
Andrea Penezic (both RK Krim Merkator)
Sara Mitova
Simona Stojanovska
Dragana Petkovska (all WHC Vardar youth programme)

Left the club: 

Ana Djokic
Biljana Crvenkoska
Nigina Saidova
Dragana Ristova (all end of career)
Ekaterina Kostiukova (Erd)
Marija Steriova (Ipress Center Vac)
Marina Dmitrovic (Ankara Yenimahalle BSK)
Marija Lojpur (Szeged)

Coach: Indira Kastratovic (since 2012)

Women’s EHF Champions League records:

Participations (including 2014/15 season): 2
Semi-finalist (1): 2013/14

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Last 16 (1): 2012/13

Macedonian league: two titles (2013, 2014)
Macedonian cup: two titles (1993, 2014)

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg