Five talking points after the quarter-final second legsArticle
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TALKING-POINTS: We look at how the balance of power in women’s club handball continues to shift East, as yet again all TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4 contenders are from eastern countries. Also, we put together a team of the best players from the quarter-finals.

»EHF CL Channel »2016-17 Women's News

Five talking points after the quarter-final second legs

The line-up for the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4 is now complete. We will see some familiar faces in Budapest, where the eastward shift of talent in women’s handball continues.

We also put together a team of who we thought were the best players of the quarter-finals. Although there were no real surprises with the outcome of the quarter-finals, we were treated to exciting games between the best club teams in the continent.

Familiar faces

The same four teams which made it to the TIPPMIX EHF FINAL4 this year also made it this far last year. What’s more, Vardar and Buducnost have participated in every FINAL4 tournament in Budapest so far: the two Balkan powerhouses are now getting ready for their fourth FINAL4 in Budapest.

Györ, on the other hand, only failed to reach the FINAL4 of the competition once in the last decade: in 2015’s injury-ridden season.

Title holders CSM Bucuresti will have a chance to defend their title, as the Romanian giants are once again part of the FINAL4.

The odds, however, have changed since last year. Although Vardar are the only participants this year who have not yet won the competition, they seem to be favourites, as they marched through the season with confidence.

This season, Vardar’s coach Irina Dibirova could become the first ever woman to win the Women’s EHF Champions League as both a player and as a coach. However, before considering that possibility, the Macedonian side must make it to their first ever final.

Go East!

Just like last year, only teams from Eastern European countries will participate in the FINAL4. Since the introduction of the format, only two Scandinavian teams - Larvik and Midtjylland - managed to contend with Eastern teams at this stage of the tournament.

This regional shift of focus in women’s handball has been happening for a while. As well as this year’s participants, teams from the east such as Dinamo-Sinara, Oltchim Rm. Valcea and RK Krim Merkator have also reached the final stages of the competition in the last number of years.  

However, apart from the above mentioned Scandinavian teams - and Grupo Asfi Itxako Navarra, who made it to the semi-finals 2011 - teams from elsewhere in Europe have not been as successful.

This trend seems to be related Eastern teams’ wealthy sponsors, which allow them to bring in top talent form all around Europe.  For example, Györ have three Norwegian players and two Dutch players, Vardar have 11 nations represented in their squad, and Bucuresti have players from Denmark, Sweden and France.

No suprises in the quarter-finals

As we wrote in our previews of the quarter-final second legs, it looked like last year’s participants would make it back to Budapest, and this was true in the end.  Three of the four FINAL4 participants won both legs of their quarter-finals, while only Györ had to fight back from their narrow away defeat in the first leg.

Midtjylland fought with pride but their home defeat limited their chances against overcoming Vardar - one of the strongest teams of the competition. Similarly, Metz made Györ work hard, but were unable to capitalise on their one-goal advantage from the first leg.

FTC and CSM’s second leg promised to be a thrilling affair, and the first half of their match met these expectations. However, the introduction of Paula Claudia Ungureanu in goal for CSM put an end to Hungarian hopes for two home teams in the FINAL4.

Team of the quarter-finals

It is very difficult to create an All-Star team from eight teams. Indeed, it means you have to leave out splendid talents such as Aniko Kovacsics (FTC), Neli Irman (Buducnost), Tine Stange (Larvik) and Andrea Penezic (Vardar). Nevertheless, here is out pick of the best players of the quarter-final:

Paula Claudia Ungureanu (Bucuresti, goalkeeper), Nadine Schatzl (FTC, left wing), Cristina Georgiana Neagu (Buducnost, left back), Isabella Gulldén (CSM, centre back), Dragana Cvijic (Buducnost, line player), Ana Gros (Metz, right back), Carmen Dolores Martin (CSM, right wing).

Penezic leads top scorer list

Vardar’s Andrea Penezic, who scored 13 against Midtjylland in the two quarter-final games, has a comfortable advantage over fellow heavy shooters in the top scorer list with 87 goals in total.

However, some still have a chance to pass her in the FINAL4. For example, Cristina Neagu has 80 goals, while Katarina Bulatovic and Isabella Gulldén have 79 goals.

Nora Mörk of Györ is nine goals behind Penezic, while Anita Görbicz seems to be too far behind, as she is trailing the leader by 19 goals.

TEXT: Bence Mártha/kc