Stronger than ever, golden girls go for the trophyArticle
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Women’s EHF Champions League countdown: 7 days to go – Rostov-Don (RUS) make no secret of their ambition to take the trophy to Russia this season

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Stronger than ever, golden girls go for the trophy

In their debut 2015/16 season in the Women’s EHF Champions League, Rostov had an extraordinary unbeaten run for 16 matches. After 15 wins and one draw, eventual winners Bucuresti ended the Russian hopes and dreams in a quarter-final between two debutants.

Now they want it all. Not only clinching the berth for the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest but the Champions League trophy,  which has been won only once so far by a Russian side as Zvezda beat Hypo in the 2008 finals.

“The FINAL4 is our minimum goal,” says Rostov’s team captain Julia Managarova. “We set ourselves the highest goals. We want to make our fans happy. Unfortunately, our team was not able to make it to the FINAL4 in the previous season.”

Club manager Anton Revenko sets the target on a similar height.

“The previous season was our debut in EHF Champions League. We were dreaming to get to Budapest, but, unfortunately, did not succeed,” Revenko says.

“Before the new season we signed several very good players. We can say that our team is as strong as never before. Our minimal aim is to get to the FINAL4. Bur, frankly speaking, we really want to win in every competition in which we participate.”

Including their top transfer, Olympic Games MVP Anna Vyakhireva, five more Rostov players became Olympic champions with Russia in Rio: Anna Sedoikina, Anna Sen, Vladlena Bobrovnikova, Ekaterina Ilina and Maya Petrova.

Rostov also have the Rio silver medalist Siraba Dembele (France, new from Vardar) and bronze medalist Katrine Lunde (Norway) in their squad.

The only bad news was the injury goalkeeper Sedoikina picked up in Rio. She is out until the end of the year and will be replaced by Maria Basarab (Kuban Krasnodar).

Also, Rostov’s staff has become even more international after signing Danish coach Jan Leslie some years ago. Frenchman Frank Kuhn, conditional coach of the French basketball team at Rio, joined the handball club. And then there is the lioness as Rostov’s new mascot (watch her here).

Rostov await three top matches on home court as both 2016 finalists – Bucuresti and Györ – plus Danish top team Midtjylland have been drawn into the Russians’ group. The heavy draw resulted from the fact Rostov finished only runners-up in the Russian league and therefore needed a wild card.

Anton Revenko focuses firstly on the match against the defending champions.

“This game against CSM Bucuresti will be very important, difficult and principled. We lost against them in last years’ quarter-final, so we really want to take revenge,” Revenko says.

“Probably Győr are one of the best handball clubs in Europe, but we will fight. I guess we have all chances. Midtjylland are not an easy competitor. An interesting season is coming. It is a really prestigious competition, and is a great honor for us to play together with best team of Europe. In addition, it is a great pleasure for our supporters to watch live such interesting games.”

Team captain Managarova is excited too, calling Group C “the hardest one. The defending champions, the finalists and a strong Danish club. We have never played against Midtjylland but we know that this team plays fast and clever handball. CSM Bucuresti changed a lot, they still are strong opponents. And Győr, probably, are the most dangerous rivals.”

Handball Club Rostov-Don (RUS)

Qualification for the Women’s EHF Champions League 2016/17 season: Russian runners-up
Newcomers: Lotte Grigel (Team Esbjerg), Anna Vyakhireva (Astrakhanochka), Olga Chernoivanenko (Vardar), Siraba Dembele (Vardar), Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa (Fleury Loiret HB), Ana-Paula Rodrigues-Belo (CSM București), Maria Basarab (Kuban)
Left the club: Marina Sudakova (Kuban), Anna Punko (Debreceni VSC), Oxana Kisileva (Odense), Regina Shimkute (pregnancy), Ekaterina Davydenko, Elena Avdekova, Marina Skladchikova
Coach: Jan Leslie
Team captain: Julia Managarova
Opponents in the group matches: Györ, Bucuresti and Midtjylland in group C

Women’s EHF Champions League record:

Participations (including 2016/17 season): 5
Quarter-finalist (1): 2015/16
Qualification (3): 2011/12, 2012/13, 2013/14

Other EC records:

EHF Cup:
Finalist (1): 2014/15
Quarter-finalist (1): 2009/10

Cup Winners' Cup:
Semi-finalist (2): 2012/13, 2013/14
Quarter-finalist (1): 2010/11

Russian league: 4 titles (1990, 1991 (USSR/EUN), 1994, 2015)
Russian Cup: 8 titles (1980, 1982 (USSR), 2007, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016)

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew