Vardar face stern test as Buducnost aim to roll onArticle
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GROUP B PREVIEW: The second round offers a regional clash between Podravka and Buducnost, while FYR Macedonia’s Vardar are at home to high-flying German champions Thüringer HC.

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Vardar face stern test as Buducnost aim to roll on

Vardar may have been tipped as one of the prime candidates to reach the Women’s EHF FINAL4 this season but judging by their tame defeat at Buducnost in last weekend’s regional derby, they will have to work hard to achieve that objective. The first test of their credentials is Saturday’s home game with German rivals Thüringer HC, who impressed in their emphatic win against Podravka and hinted they could be a surprise package in the preliminary group stage.

Buducnost, on the other hand, will make a short trip to Croatia as strong favourites to notch up their second successive win after a faultless display against Vardar, which suggested the 2012 winners could still move up a gear as Europe’s premier club competition rolls on.

HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO) vs Buducnost (MNE)  
Saturday 25 October at 18.00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

A torrid week for Podravka ends with Saturday’s clash against mighty Buducnost, who will be a mountain to climb for the Croatian outfit after the two sides showed highly contrasting form last weekend. Prior to their regional contest with the Montenegrin giants, Podravka stole one point in a Croatian derby at Lokomotiva Zagreb which was a litmus test whether they can give Buducnost a run for their money.

“We knew after we qualified for the EHF Champions League group matches it would be rough ride for our youthful team, especially this week when we’ve had to face three top quality teams,” Podravka coach Goran Mrdjen told the club’s official website.

“Hence we can’t complain. We are looking forward to the daunting home game against Buducnost because we can only improve playing against the best teams.”

Buducnost, in contrast to Podravka, fired on all cylinders in their opening EHF Champions League game and their coach Dragan Adzic was buoyed by a flawless team effort against Vardar, in which winger Biljana Pavicevic and reserve goalkeeper Marta Zderic stood out.

Right back Katarina Bulatovic marked her homecoming after a two-year exile with five goals, meaning that Podravka’s seemingly porous defence is likely to be stretched by a myriad of attacking talent.

“I felt like I never left, I have played with all these girls already and I think we will only improve in the Champions League latter stages,” Bulatovic told the club’s official website.

Adzic added: “After an effervescent performance, we will now turn our attention to Podravka and given that several teams in the competition are still ahead of us in terms of current form, we have every reason to be confident about our campaign this term.”
WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD) vs Thüringer HC (GER)  
Saturday 25 October at 19.00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

The mood within the two camps could not be more contrasting ahead of this intriguing clash in the Macedonian capital, where a wounded Vardar are at home to Thüringer who will be beaming with confidence after a most comprehensive rout of Podravka in the opening round.

Vardar were not expected to pull off a miracle against Buducnost but the tame nature of their 23:17 defeat by the Montenegrin side surprised many pundits who expected a star-studded outfit to put up a better fight.

Coach Indira Kastratovic clearly needs time to blend a group of world class individuals into the kind of cohesive unit Buducnost has been for years, but she will also be aware there is little room for error in an unforgiving competition including Europe’s top teams.

“Thüringer play at a relentless pace for the entire 60 minutes, they have excellent backs and speedy wingers who are lethal on fast breaks,” Kastratovic told a press conference, heaping praise on Vardar’s rivals.

“The key to victory is strong defence so that we grind down their attack, while we have to stay focused and reduce turnovers to a minimum,” she said.

Thüringer HC will travel to Skopje devoid of any pressure and their coach Herbert Müller acknowledged it would be his team’s best chance of pulling off an upset despite taking only nine players to Montenegro.

"We know Vardar will do everything in their power to win points which could be important in the main round and anything less than their victory would be a surprise, but we really have nothing to lose,” Müller told the club’s official website.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br