Group of life set to light up champions leagueArticle
«Go back

GROUP B PREVIEW: Two regional rivals and participants of the premiere Women's EHF FINAL4 will meet in the first big clash of the new season.

»EHF CL Channel »2014-15 Women's News

Group of life set to light up champions league

When two or more strong teams are pitted against each other in the preliminary group stage of a competition, that section is almost invariably called the group of death. The cliché could without doubt apply to the Women’s EHF Champions League Group B including 2012 winners and 2014 runners-up Buducnost Podgorica, last term’s semi-finalists WHC SCBT Vardar, German powerhouse Thüringer and Croatian giants Podravka Vegeta.

Rarely have four teams of such strength and stature been drawn together at an early stage of Europe’s premier club competition and hence a group of life would probably be a more appropriate way to describe this section set to produce 12 spectacular matches.

Having reached the semi-finals in their debut season, an expensively assembled Vardar outfit have further boosted their ranks by signing Andrea Penezic and Barbara Lazovic from Slovenian rivals Krim Mercator.

Anja Althaus joined from Thüringer HC and will face her former club, while Russians Alena Ikhneva and Olga Chernoivanenko arrived from Lada Togliatti as high-flying Macedonian champions Vardar aim to go a step or two further in their second season in Europe’s top flight.

Having won the elusive trophy with Györi Audi ETO last season, Montenegrin prodigy Katarina Bulatovic returned to Buducnost Podgorica and her  homecoming will have made the Adriatic republic’s title holders one of the favourites not just to advance to the main round but to at least emulate last season’s achievement.

Led by national team coach Dragan Adzic, Buducnost defied the odds to reach the final where they were stopped by a dominant Györ, with Bulatovic at the heart of the Hungarian side’s triumph. Podravka and Thüringer will in all likelihood be locked in a battle to finish third and thus advance from this incredibly
tough preliminary pool under the competition’s new format, but both sides have proved in the past that they are capable of exceeding expectations.

Last season, Thüringer defied the odds to reach the main round from a tough group phase, having advanced to the last eight alongside Györ at the expense of more fancied Hypo Niederosterreich. Podravka, the 1996 trophy winners, have a long and illustrious history of reaching the latter stages of the
competition and although their present outfit is one yet to mature and shine on the big stage, playing under no pressure might bring the best out of a young and talented team.

Thüringer HC (GER) vs HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO)
Sunday 19 October, at 14:30 hours local time, live on ehftv

A top-two finish in the group stage seems unrealistic for both of these sides but even a third-place achievement now guarantees a main round berth, while coming fourth offers the rather generous consolation prize of carrying on in the Cup Winners' Cup.

Hence the opener in Germany will at least amount to the first leg of a fierce dogfight to avoid the wooden spoon.  

Thüringer will head into the new season with a much-changed outfit having lost top performer Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa after the Bundesliga 2014 player of the season joined CJF Fleury Loiret Handball during the summer break.

With Anja Althaus off to Vardar and goalkeeper Maike März retiring, injuries to prolific scorer Sonja Frey and Martine Smeets, who both had to go undergo surgery before the start of the season, Thüringer HC will have to dig deep into their resources to make a winning start.

Podravka have made sweeping personnel changes as virtually all the key players have left the club while others arrived and came through a tough qualifying tournament, beating Serbian rivals Radnicki Kragujevac to reach the business end of the competition.

The likes of Marta Zderic and Zana Covic have been replaced by Jelena Zivkovic, Jelena Trifunovic and Ekaterina Nemaskalo, with the new-look outfit showing remarkable cohesion and composure in advancing into the group matches.

Buducnost (MNE) vs WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD)
Sunday 19 October, at 19:00 hours local time, live on ehftv

The handball forces of new and old lock horns in what should be an enthralling contest in Podgorica’s Moraca Hall, one of the sport’s most iconic strongholds regularly packed for women’s EHF Champions League games.

It will also be a repeat of last season’s thrilling FINAL4 clash in Budapest, when Buducnost edged out Vardar in a gripping semi-final to set up a showdown with old rivals Györ who went on to win their second successive  title in Europe’s elite club competition.

There can be hardly any secrets between the rivals from the former Yugoslavia, as both sides are packed with top quality players who have faced each other many times at club and international level.

Having justified massive investments last season by reaching the last four, Vardar will now strive to hit the pinnacle at their second attempt and the daunting trip to the Montenegrin capital will provide for an instant test of their title credentials.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br