Dinamo and Vardar chase runners-up finish in three-way battleArticle
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PREVIEW: The last set of matches in Group 1 of the EHF Champions League offers a thrilling fight in the quest of three teams to avoid facing Group 1 winners Larvik in the knockout stage.

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Dinamo and Vardar chase runners-up finish in three-way battle

Although all quarter-final berths have been sealed, the final weekend of what has been an absorbing main round in Europe’s premier club competition is bound to produce an enthralling climax in Group 1.

Amid a plethora of mind-boggling combinations, Vardar are chasing a nine-goal win against Russians Dinamo-Sinara but even that won’t be enough for a second-place finish if Thüringer beat Leipzig in their all-German clash.

Dinamo will be runners-up in the event that all three teams finish level on 11 points because of the best head-to-head record with Vardar and Thüringer, who will be placed third and fourth respectively.

Thüringer can still finish third and thus avoid facing unbeaten Larvik in the last eight, while group winners Buducnost take on bottom team Krim Mercator to flex their muscles ahead of the business and of the competition.

GROUP 1

WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD) vs Dinamo-Sinara (RUS)
Saturday March 14, 19.00 local time, live on ehfTV

A crushing eight-goal defeat by Dinamo in the reverse fixture may yet turn out to be the most telling blow Vardar have suffered so far in the EHF Champions League, as a likely third or fourth-place finish will mean they face either Larvik or Györi Audi ETO in the quarter-finals.

A nine-goal win that would overturn the deficit will be enough only if Thüringer fail to beat eliminated Leipzig at home, in which case Vardar and Dinamo will be tied on 11 points while Thüringer will finish fourth.

A win by less than eight goals will ensure a third-place finish for Vardar while failure to win would probably confine them to fourth place, depending on what Thüringer do against Leipzig.

The calculation for Dinamo is simple: anything other than an astonishing meltdown in Skopje would mean finishing second and facing easier opposition in the last eight, hence one can expect a strong and determined defensive performance from the Russian side.

Vardar coach Indira Kastratovic made it clear she expected her team to forget the mathematics and focus simply on winning the contest.

“We know how important and tough Saturday’s match is, hence the priority is to win it and then see where we finish in the standings. Therefore we implore our fans to turn up in droves because this is our most important game of the season so far,” she told a press conference.

The club’s Montenegrin winger Jovanka Radicevic added: “We know the fans will get behind us in full force and that’s why nothing less than a win will do for us against Dinamo.”

Thüringer HC (GER) vs HC Leipzig (GER)
Sunday 15 March, 14.00 local time, live on ehfTV

Thüringer’s emphatic win over Leipzig in the reverse fixture was the pivotal moment in their battle to earn a ticket for the business end of the competition but there is still plenty at stake in Sunday’s clash.

Leipzig fought as hard as they could to avoid an early exit but can still affect the group’s standings, as Thüringer are on a quest to finish third and thus lock horns with Györi Audio ETO instead of rampant Larvik in the last eight.

In a nutshell, Thüringer have to surpass Vardar’s achievement against Dinamo-Sinara if they are to leapfrog them, as finishing level on points with them in any scenario will mean that the Macedonian giants have the edge with a better head-to-head record.

Therefore, a win will do for Thüringer if Vardar fail to beat Dinamo while even a draw will be enough if the Russian side is victorious in Skopje. But if Vardar beat Dinamo, Thüringer will finish fourth no matter what they do.

Leipzig, on the other hand, will do their best to bow out on a high note and the match against Thüringer is another opportunity for their Polish back Karolina Kudlacz, the competition’s top scorer with 77 goals, to prove her worth.
    
Buducnost (MNE) vs Krim Mercator (SLO)
Sunday 15 March, 19.00 local time, live on ehfTV

The main round’s final match in Group 1 is the only one whose result is competitively meaningless, as Buducnost are assured of finishing top while Krim cannot avoid propping up the section.

However, there is still something to play for. Pride most of all, as the contest features rivals from the regional league incorporating teams from the former Yugoslavia.

The Montenegrin giants will by all means be determined to keep their unbeaten run intact and enjoy a confidence boost ahead of the knockout rounds.

Having struggled against the top teams in a transitional season, Krim aim to make a good impression in the Moraca Hall and take some positives from a difficult main round campaign.

Buducnost fans will no doubt pack the venue to show unrelenting support for their team, who have emerged as one of the favourites to reach the Women's EHF FINAL4 in Budapest and perhaps emulate the 2012 success when they won their maiden title.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br
 
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