Powerful trio closing in on main roundArticle
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GROUP C PREVIEW: HC Vardar, FC Midtjylland and Györi Audi ETO KC are vying for spots in the second stage of Europe’s premier club competition from a fiercely competitive group.

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Powerful trio closing in on main round

Three teams in Group C can seal their main round berths on Sunday with two games to spare, with Hungary’s Györi Audi ETO KC the prime candidates to get the job done as they face the section’s bottom side Hypo Niederösterreich.

Midtjylland and Vardar will both go through if their contest ends in a draw provided that Györ beat Hypo, but their clash will be more about taking much-needed points into the main round.

FC Midtjylland (DEN) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Sunday, 8 November, 17:00 hrs local time; live on ehfTV

Last week’s comprehensive 33:24 home drubbing of FC Midtjylland has boosted Vardar’s confidence so much that some of their players see the Macedonian giants as outright favourites to complete the double over the Danish title holders.

“All we need to do is repeat the performance we produced in Skopje,” left wing Maja Sokac told Vardar’s official website ahead of the trip to Ikast for the return match.

“We played perfect defence and attack. It will be more difficult to break them down on home court but if we stick to what we did in our Jane Sandanski arena, we should come out on top,” she added.

Having come under fire after the opening 27:22 home defeat by Györ, Vardar responded with an easy 38:25 win at Hypo followed by a blistering display of speed and skill against Midtjylland.

Still, Vardar have often been inconsistent and there is little doubt that the Danish side, likely to enjoy equally vociferous support from their home fans as Vardar did in the reverse fixture, will be fired up to bounce back and stay top of the group.

Midtjylland did not have a perfect warm-up for the clash, having been held to a surprise 26:26 home draw by mid-table NFH Nhyk in the Danish league.

The result left FCM top of the 12-team league with 15 points from nine games, one more than closest rivals Esbjerg who have a game in hand.

If Midtjylland were saving their energy for what should be a significantly tougher challenge against Vardar, their coach Helle Thomsen should expect her team to fire on all cylinders against the Macedonian giants.

Having scored only two goals from eight shots in Skopje, right back Louise Burgaard will need to up her game and take some of the pressure off Stine Jorgensen and Trine Jensen.

Vardar, on the other hand, will hope that left back Andrea Penezic and playmaker Andrea Lekic can reproduce impressive individual performances which propelled their team to victory a week ago.

Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs Hypo Niederösterreich (AUT)
Sunday 8 November, 17:00 hrs local time; live on ehfTV

If they are to keep alive any lingering hopes of avoiding a group stage exit from the Women’s EHF Champions League, Hypo must produce nothing less than a miracle against one of the competition’s favourites on Sunday.

Two decades ago, when the Austrian side reigned supreme in Europe’s top flight, the roles would have been reversed.

At this point in time, however, it is a David vs Goliath clash with the Hungarian side having the upper hand in terms of quality and stature.

Having lost their sizeable Brazilian contingent over the past two years, Hypo now rely almost solely on home-grown talent who have showed commendable fighting spirit despite losing all four games.

Facing the reality that they can’t punch above their weight against opposition which is out of their league, Hypo never let their heads drop and always left the court with their pride intact.

They won the hearts of all neutral fans in the second half of last week’s 29:21 home defeat by Györ, when they pulled their socks up after trailing 15:6 at half-time and won the second period 15:14.

Slovakian 37-year old right back Alzbeta Tothova stood out with a game-high 10 goals, inspiring her younger colleagues to give Györ a decent run for their money.

But there is little doubt that the Hungarian giants will be an even tougher prospect at home, with a main round berth beckoning for the 2013 and 2014 EHF Champions League winners.

Such is the depth of Györ’s roster that 13 players scored in the reverse fixture against Hypo, with coach Martin Ambros able to rotate freely in order to leave enough in the tank for upcoming challenges.

Györ will head into the clash eager to put behind them Wednesday’s  29:28 Hungarian league defeat at traditional rivals Ferencvaros, with the result allowing the home side to leapfrog their bitter foes into pole position of the 12-team top division.

But if anything, the setback is likely to galvanise Györ against Hypo and the Austrian side could endure a truly difficult afternoon.

In addition Hypo will head for Hungary with their 22-year winning run in the Austrian league having been snapped last Wednesday. The 24:26 defeat at Korneuburg was their first setback in domestic competitions since 22 March 1993 and after 384 matches.

The Korneuburg victory was orchestrated by their coach Jasna Kolar, former Hypo stalwart and 1990 World Handball Player of the Year.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br