Two derbies, two stalemates in Group 1Article
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GROUP 1 REVIEW: CSM and Rostov produce one of the highlights of the season with a thrilling 22:22 draw, while NFH and FCM split the spoils, 21:21, in the Danish derby

Two derbies, two stalemates in Group 1

The race for first place in Women’s EHF Champions League Main Round Group 1 is still very much on after Sunday’s clash between CSM Bucuresti and Rostov-Don ended in a 22:22 stalemate. The Russian side led for almost the entire second half, but CSM’s stout defence prevented their second loss of the season.

In Denmark, NFH - Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub and FC Midtjylland took turns holding the advantage, but ultimately shared the points after a 21:21 draw.

• Cristina Neagu scores five times for CSM, but has an off night against Rostov as those goals also come with nine missed shots
• CSM’s attacking woes leave the Romanian side with a 47 per cent attacking efficiency
• Györ will host CSM in the next round, while NFH will visit Rostov
• CSM stay on top of the group with 11 points, Rostov are third with nine. NFH are fourth with five points, while FCM are sixth with three

CSM Bucuresti (ROU) vs Rostov-Don (RUS) 22:22 (11:12)

On paper, CSM and Rostov looked as though they could produce a high-octane, intense match, as both sides eye first place in the group. While the two teams did not boast flawless attack, the handball was fierce, with passionate fans, great defence and a touch of magic from each side’s key players.

It was CSM who took the lead early, forcing Rostov to chase for 15 minutes in what was a clash between two of the most powerful back lines in the Women’s EHF Champions League. However, Cristina Neagu had an uncharacteristic off day, scoring only twice from seven shots in the first half, with three attempts hitting the post.

Therefore, it was no surprise that CSM had to adjust, and an eight-minute spell without a goal saw Rostov ride a 4:0 partial to an 11:9 lead.

CSM coach Helle Thomsen deployed an ultra-aggressive approach toward the end of the first half, taking out their goalkeeper to attack with seven players, but the Romanian side still found themselves behind at half-time.

No Neagu, no party for CSM

Rostov took control in the second period and looked the favourites to beat CSM for the first time on their home court this season – even without Ana Paula Rodrigues, who received a direct red card after hitting Paula Ungureanu in the face from the penalty line. But CSM tweaked their defence and the results were there to be seen, with the Russian side scoring only three times in the last 14 minutes.

However, with the attack still in poor shape, there was a price to pay for CSM, who had to make three player changes in transitions.

Ultimately, the game ended in a stalemate, 22:22, as Neagu missed the last shot and the superb goalkeeper Anna Sedoykina added her 13th save of the night for Rostov.

CSM are still first in the group with 11 points, one more than Györ, whom they will face in two weeks’ time. Rostov remain in the hunt for first place, only two points behind the Romanian powerhouse.

NFH – Nykøbing Falster Handboldclub (DEN) vs FC Midtjylland (DEN) 21:21 (11:10)

There was more than local pride at stake in the all-Danish derby between NFH and FC Midtjylland, as their two-point tally before the game left the visitors with little wiggle room.

Yet it was all NFH in the first 10 minutes, as the Danish champions capitalised on their strong defence to jump to a 5:1 lead, with Swedish back Johanna Westberg picking up where she left off after a great start to the season.

But a pair of 3:0 partials from FCM were enough to bring Kristian Kristensen’s team back into the game, as they levelled the score at 10:10 on the back of a flawless performance from Danish right back Louise Burgaard (eight goals).

Defence first in the second half

FCM had four opportunities to take the lead during the match, but their missed chances enabled NFH to maintain control, as the game turned into a defence-first contest with a low-risk approach from both teams.

As NFH faltered, FCM had enough strength in their tank, and a 3:0 partial saw them take the lead for the first time, 15:13, with impressive goals from backs Veronica Kristiansen and Burgaard.

Just when it looked as though FCM were ready to snatch their first win after a four-game losing streak, NFH engineered their own 4:1 partial, with stronger defence that saw the game levelled at 20:20 with six minutes to go.

There were only two goals scored in the last minutes of the game, as both sides struggled in attack. But it was NFH who snatched a draw in the last 20 seconds, when Westberg scored a powerful shot to equalise at 21:21.

"One point in Champions League is good no matter who you play against. FC Midtjylland have, just like us, not had the best results lately, so both teams had to find their own feet in the beginning," said NFH coach Jakob Larsen. "We got a better start than they did, but they came back, and in the end there were a lot of nerves, so I guess a draw was a fair result."

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg