Crunch time for German duo and VardarArticle
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GROUP 1 PREVIEW: Thüringer and Leipzig both face decisive battles in their bid to reach the EHF Champions League quarter-finals, as do Macedonian giants Vardar who visit eliminated Krim Mercator.

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Crunch time for German duo and Vardar

The penultimate round of the EHF Champions League in Group 1 offers a fascinating tripleheader with four teams still chasing three spots alongside already qualified Buducnost.

WHC Vardar SCBT are away to Slovenia’s Krim Mercator, who have no chance of finishing in the section’s top four, meaning that a win would put the Macedonian title holders in a commanding position to secure a last-eight berth.

HC Leipzig are in a difficult position as they face a must-win home match against the section’s front-runners Buducnost who will undoubtedly aim to continue their impressive run despite already booking their knockout stage ticket.

Thüringer, who boosted their own hopes with a massive 33:21 home defeat of Krim Mercator in the last round, visit Russians Dinamo-Sinara in Volgograd in perhaps the most intriguing tie of the weekend.

GROUP 1

Krim Mercaror (SLO) vs WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD)
Friday 6 March, 19.00 local time, live on ehfTV

Buoyed by last weekend’s 26:20 home win against Leipzig, Vardar will head to the Slovenian capital confident that they can come away with two precious points which would represent a big step towards the last eight.

Vardar have so far had a rough ride in Europe’s premier club competition, having entered the main round with just three points from a possible eight and then lost two of their opening three games before an impressive performance against the German outfit.

The clash with Krim, who have no chance of advancing, will be perceived as a big chance to gain more ground on fifth-placed Leipzig and perhaps also to leapfrog third-placed Thüringer.

However, Vardar will also be aware that playing a written-off side is a sword that cuts both ways because the Slovenian champions will most certainly put their hearts on the sleeve to bow out on a high note.

After all, a regional derby featuring two teams from the former Yugoslavia is almost bound to produce a thrilling contest.

HC Leipzig (GER) vs Buducnost (MNE)
Saturday 7 March, 14.00 local time, live on ehfTV

Having suffered three successive defeats in the Main Round after a shock 26:23 home win over Vardar, HC Leipzig now have to pull off another huge upset if they are to keep alive any realistic hopes of progressing from what has turned out to be an incredibly tough group.

While losing away to Buducnost and Vardar was expected, it was the crushing home defeat by fellow Bundesliga rivals Thuringer in-between those two losses that really did the damage.

Hence, Leipzig will have to dig deep into their resources if they are to snap Buducnost’s unbeaten run in Europe this season.

The fact that the Montenegrin giants have already sealed their knockout stage berth with several games to spare will not play into Leipzig’s hands as Buducnost coach Dragan Adzic is well known for demanding nothing less than 100 percent no matter what the circumstances are.

Thus, the stage is set for a fascinating encounter likely to keep fans in Leipzig and those watching on television around Europe glued to their seats from start to finish.

Dinamo-Sinara (RUS) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
Sunday 8 March, 14.00 local time, live on ehfTV

Although they suffered a heavy loss at Buducnost last weekend, Dinamo-Sinara were elevated into the knockout stages by Leipzig’s defeat at Vardar and the Russian’s side encounter with Thüringer is in many ways a battle for the runners-up spot in the group.

Both sides know that finishing second would mean avoiding Larvik and Györ in the quarter-finals, as the perennial heavyweights of European women’s handball are assured of taking the top two positions in Group 2.

Dinamo have exceeded expectations by punching seemingly above their weight to reach the main round, where two wins from the opening four games ensured a top-four finish with a couple of matches to spare.

Thüringer are in a good position to join Dinamo as they will have their fate firmly in their own hands even if they lose in Volgograd, but there is no doubt they will try to avoid skating on thin ice.

The German champions are at home to compatriots Leipzig in the last round and the clash might well turn into a dramatic dogfight for the last remaining quarter-final berth in Europe’s top flight.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br
 
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