Balkan trio, German duo and Dinamo aim for last eight berthsArticle
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PREVIEW: The Women's EHF Champions League returns on Friday 30 January with the opening main round encounter in Leipzig, one of many thrilling matches to be expected from Group 1

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Balkan trio, German duo and Dinamo aim for last-eight berths

The new, revamped format of the Women’s EHF Champions League Main Round is set to produce plenty of thrills with 12 teams divided into two groups of six chasing quarter-final spots.

Both sections are fiercely competitive and Group 1 promises a plethora of high-octane clashes featuring three teams from the former Yugoslavia, German rivals HC Leipzig and Thüringer HC as well as Russian contenders Dinamo Sinara, arguably the season’s surprise package.

Results from the group matches between qualified teams were carried into the main round and the competition’s 2012 winners Buducnost Podgorica of Montenegro will hence start as favourites to finish among the top four, having taken seven from a possible eight points ahead of Dinamo who have six.

Leipzig and WHC Vardar SCBT, one of the pre-season favourites who endured a bumpy ride in the group matches, are next in line with Slovenian champions RK Krim Mercator and Thuringer breathing down their necks.

With only five points separating the top and the bottom team and another 12 at stake, the six-way battle is almost destined to go down to the wire, much to the delight of handball fans all around Europe.

Clearly determined to emulate the 2012 success, Buducnost have extended the contracts of half a dozen top performers while Thuringer have ensured the extended future of two pillars in their ranks, Danick Snelder and Svenja Huber.

Buducnost’s first test will be a tricky visit to Dinamo, who did well to finish top of their group.

Vardar, one of the pre-tournament favourites, will have welcomed the month-long break after EHF EURO 2014 in Hungary and Croatia for their Serbian playmaker Andrea Lekic to make a full recovery from an ankle injury, as they start with an equally difficult trip to Leipzig.

Finally, Krim and Thüringer lock horns in a battle whose winners could surge into the knockout stage zone and there is little doubt both teams will view the clash as pivotal for their ambitions.  

Women’s EHF Champions League Group 1

HC Leipzig (GER) vs WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD)
Leipzig, Friday 30 January 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV

The intriguing clash between Germany’s runners-up and the Macedonian giants opens the eagerly awaited main round after the winter break.

Vardar will be the odds-on favourites to win this one but as shown by a 21:20 defeat at Thüringer in their last group match, they cannot take anything for granted against plucky German opposition.

Leipzig did not have a great tune-up for the clash though, losing a league derby to Buxtehude 24:20 on Tuesday with the outcome leaving them third in the standings, two adrift of leaders Thüringer.

Vardar will miss Spanish line player Begona Fernandez and Russian right back Tatiana Khmyrova through injury but Macedonian national team captain Robertina Mechevska, who joined the club after eight seasons with city rivals Metalurg, was confident they would make a winning start.

“The atmosphere is great and I am delighted to have become a part of such a mighty and well organised club,” she told Vardar’s official website.

“We are prepared for what awaits and fully focused on our visit to Leipzig. Vardar are always expected to perform to the best of their abilities and I believe we have enough quality in our ranks to start the second half of the season with a win.” 

Dinamo Sinara (RUS) vs Buducnost (MNE)
Volgograd, Saturday 31 January 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV

Results in the group matches have made this an immediate top-of-the-table clash and a very intriguing one too, with Dinamo looking to continue their impressive run while a star-studded Buducnost team faces another stern test of their credentials on the road.

The Montenegrin champions, who played in last year’s final and have the ambition to go a step further this season – which would emulate their 2012 success when they won Europe’s most coveted trophy in club handball – warmed up for the clash with a 25:16 regional league win over HC Metalurg.

But the victory came at a cost as defensive specialist Suzana Lazovic suffered an ankle injury while speedy winger Radmila Petrovic was rested after taking a knock in a 35:24 win against RK Krim Mercator the day before.

Nevertheless, coach Dragan Adzic could take a lot of positives from his team’s fine run of late, as Poland’s Kinga Byzdra led the charge with seven goals against Metalurg while playmaker Milena Knezevic and left wing Biljana Pavicevic netted five each.

“I am happy with the commitment level the girls showed from start to finish and our attention now turns to the clash with Dinamo on the opening day of the Main Round,” he told the club’s official website.

Dinamo head into the encounter after a 23:23 draw with leaders Rostov-Don in a Russian league thriller, having thrown away a 13:7 half-time lead.

The result continued a poor domestic run for Dinamo, who were beaten by Lada Togliatti 32:27 at home in the previous round and also suffered a 30:26 defeat at Zvezda Zvenigorod.  

RK Krim Mercator (SLO) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
Ljubljana, Saturday 31 January 17:00 hours local time, live on ehfTV

The clash between the group’s bottom two teams has a huge significance for both, as the winners will boost their hopes of breaking into the top four while the losers face a mammoth task to stay in the hunt for progression.

Krim, twice former winners and runners-up on three other occasions in the EHF Champions League, squeezed into the main round and had mixed fortunes in a four-day regional league schedule where they celebrated two wins and suffered as many defeats.

Having lost to Buducnost (35:24) and Podravka Vegeta (35:25), Krim beat ZRK Metalurg (32:22) and most recently Montenegrin outfit ZRK Danilovgrad (26:15), in which speedy winger Tamara Mavsar stood out with a game-high nine goals.

Thüringer stayed top of the German first division with an emphatic 37:22 home win over Göppingen on the back of eight goals from Kerstin Wohlbold, six from Danick Snelder and five by Nadja Nadgornaja.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cor