Trio chase top spot in nail-biting finishArticle
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GROUP 2 PREVIEW: Buducnost, Györi Audi ETO KC and HC Vardar can all win Group 2 in the final match week of an enthralling main round.

Trio chase top spot in nail-biting finish

The thrilling race to win the main round comes to a close this weekend, with Macedonian giants HC Vardar visiting Swedish rivals IK Sävehof in the first of the three decisive fixtures.

Women’s EHF Champions League title holders and group leaders Buducnost are to play FC Midtjylland at home, and Györi Audi ETO KC visit CSM Bucuresti, who are certain to finish fourth.  

Group 2
IK Sävehof (SWE) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Friday 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV

An impressive home win over reigning champions Buducnost last weekend has catapulted Vardar into contention for the group’s top spot, although they need a double upset in the other two games if they are to leapfrog the Buducnost and Györ to claim the driving seat.

The first thing Vardar must do is naturally to beat Sävehof, who have performed reasonably well on the home court in the main round and have a sweet victory over Scandinavian rivals Midtjylland to show for it.

In their titanic clash against Buducnost, Vardar showed the kind of determination and resolve needed if they are to reach the FINAL4 for the third successive season. 

No less than 12 players scored against Buducnost, led by Barbara Lazovic-Varlec, who netted six times, underlining the depth of Vardar’s roster, who finally performed to the best of their abilities.

Many a pundit started to doubt Vardar’s potential against top opposition after a pair of defeats at the hands of Györ and a crushing 31:19 set back at Buducnost, but the Macedonian powerhouse responded with a vintage performance in front of a passionate home crowd on Sunday.

Given Sävehof’s ability to punch above their weight on their home court, Vardar can expect anything but an easy match in Sweden.

“We need a win and a pair of miracles to finish top of the group but none of us are thinking about that,” playmaker Andrea Lekic told the club’s official website as they geared up for the trip to Sweden.

“We played three good games in row and we want to extend our streak, therefore it is so important to keep winning.” 

“The most important thing is that we have hit top form and the team spirit is at its highest, which was everywhere to be seen in the match against Buducnost.” 

“Sävehof are a good team and they will take us on without any pressure, so we must stay focused and forget about any complacency because we can’t afford it.” 

The Swedish title holders enjoyed a perfect dress rehearsal for the clash with Vardar, beating Onnereds 33:21 away to top of the country’s first division with 36 points from 20 games, ahead of second-placed Skuru on goal difference. 

Buducnost (MNE) vs FC Midtjylland (DEN)  
Sunday 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV

Beaten by their perennial rivals from former Yugoslavia, Vardar, last weekend for the first time in six games, Buducnost are now under pressure to make amends in order to stay on top of the group.

The champions will start as strong favourites against Midtjylland, who have no chance of sneaking into the top four but will nevertheless be motivated to bow out of Europe’s premier club competition with their pride intact. 

A steely Vardar defence stifled Budućnost’s normally fast-flowing attack in Skopje, therefore the Montenegrin outfit will be keen to restore business as usual against Midtjylland.

Right back Katarina Bulatovic, playmaker Milena Raicevic and wing Majda Mehmedovic were solid against Vardar with a combined total of 15 goals, while the rest of the star-studded outfit struggled.

“We need games like this as it has given us food for thought,” Buducnost coach Dragan Adzic told reporters.

“I expected fatigue to creep in after the home game against Györ, but it is now very clear that we will have work to do in order to be prepared for the quarter-finals, because we will be up against opposition on the same par with Vardar.”

Goalkeeper Marta Zderic added: “We have to learn our lessons from the Vardar defeat in order to improve and beat Midtjylland. I think we will come out stronger from this defeat and prove our worth.”

The Danish side suffered a heart-breaking 28:23 home defeat to CSM Bucuresti last weekend, which ended their hopes of reaching the last eight and highlighted the team’s limits in a fiercely competitive group.

However, Midtjylland are a very different prospect on home court and fans in Ikast can therefore expect a rip-roaring contest between two teams thriving on fast breaks and exploiting space on either flank.

One can also expect a slugfest between the home team’s sharpshooters Stine Jörgensen and Veronica Kristiansen and Buducnost’s fearsome backcourt trio of Bulatovic, Raicevic and Cristina Neagu.  

CSM Bucuresti (ROU) vs Györi Audio ETO KC (HUN)    
Sunday 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV

Having secured their place in the EHF Champions League knock-out stages, CSM Bucuresti are now looking for a big win that would confirm their ability to mix it with Europe’s best.

The outcome will not change the Romanian side’s position as they will finish fourth no matter what, but beating Györ would represent a massive confidence boost against the upcoming last-eight clash with Group 1 winners Rostov-Don.

There is also the traditional regional rivalry between Hungarian and Romanian clubs to attend to, promising a wildly entertaining clash between two talent-packed teams.

Bucuresti produced one of their best performances of the season when they most needed to, brushing aside Midtjylland 28:23 in their dogfight for the group’s last remaining ticket last weekend.

As ever, Swedish import Isabelle Gullden shone with a game-high eight goals, backed by Ana Paula Rodrigues Belo, Carmen Martin Berenguer and Bianca Bazaliu. 

Györ, for their part, will also be keen to come away with two points, as a win would guarantee a second-place finish and could lift them above Buducnost into the group’s pole position, in the unlikely event of the Montenegrin giants slipping up at home against Midtjylland. 

The Hungarian side never got out of second gear in the last round’s 32:26 home win against Sävehof, but they will have to add something to their performance if they are to beat a fast-improving Bucuresti side in this unpredictable clash.    

Immediately prior to the match a moment of silence will be held in memory of dual world champion, Romania's Mircea Costache, who passed away on February 16.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cg