Group 1 heavyweights to meet in GyörArticle
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ROUND 4 PREVIEW: More quarter-finalists may be determined when the Women’s EHF Champions League returns to action after a short break

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Group 1 heavyweights to meet in Györ

While CSM Bucuresti, HC Vardar and Metz Handball have already secured their EHF Champions League Quarter-final spots, some other vacancies may be filled in the upcoming round this weekend.

The main round will be back in action after a two-week break, and Round 4 will feature the clashes of group leaders – Györi Audi ETO KC versus CSM in Group 1, and Metz against Vardar in Group 2.

• Vardar are on a nine-game winning run
• THC’s Iveta Luzumova is the competition’s top scorer with 80 goals
• Metz will play their 90th match in the continental top flight, while Rostov take the court for their 30th

Rostov-Don (RUS) vs NFH-Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub (DEN)
Saturday 24 February, 16:00 local time, live on

The schedule has been quite tough for Rostov in recent weeks, as the Russian champions have played as many as 14 matches since the beginning of 2018.

However, they have been handling the pressure very well – in the domestic competitions, coach Frederic Bougeant’s team have won all their matches, while in the EHF Champions League Main Round, they beat NFH and Krim before splitting the points with CSM in Romania.

On Tuesday, Rostov defeated their rivals Lada in the Russian Super League, which boosted their morale further. “I am happy with the team’s character and fighting spirit. This victory is important before the crucial Champions League games,” said Bougeant.

A win against NFH will see Rostov seal their quarter-final spot, and on the home court, the Russian side are easily the favourites against Nykøbing, whom they beat last month in Denmark (29:25). Following that defeat, NFH went on to lose against the defending champions Györ, then drew with Midtjylland in the Danish derby.

Nykøbing are currently fourth in the group, one point clear of Krim and two of Midtjylland. It will not be easy to maintain that position, as NFH's two main rivals are set to clash on Sunday.

FC Midtjylland (DEN) vs RK Krim Mercator (SLO)
Sunday 25 February, 15:00 local time, live on

The teams sit at the bottom of Group 1, with Midtjylland tallying three points, and Krim four. However, nothing is lost for the outsiders yet, as a victory in the upcoming duel could see the team that takes the points climb to fourth place if NFH are defeated in Rostov.

Though Midtjylland’s Veronica Kristiansen is third in the competition’s top scorer list with 61 goals, the Danish team have the least effective attack among all main round participants, which has certainly affected their results.

However, after a four-match losing streak, Midtjylland grabbed a point against NFH in the Danish derby in Round 3, and now hope to continue the positive trend at home against Krim.

There is a chance that head-to-head results will play a role for the two rivals at the end of the main round. Krim currently have an advantage, as they narrowly beat the Danish side in January (24:23).  

Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs CSM Bucuresti (ROM)
Monday 26 February, 19:00 local time, live on

In the main round opener last month, CSM defeated Györ at home for the first time ever (28:22). However, the current title holders still have an upper hand in this Hungarian-Romanian rivalry, which started in 2016.

Since then, the teams have faced each other six times in the continent’s top flight, with Györ winning four matches and losing two.

Ahead of their clash on Monday, Bucuresti lead Group 1, one point clear of Györ. While CSM have already claimed their quarter-final ticket, the Hungarian side are still technically not there, but they need just one point to secure progression.

Györ are learning to play without Nora Mørk, whose recent knee injury is a serious blow for the Hungarian champions with the crucial part of the season ahead. Although Mørk and some other key players were missing, Györ beat Krim comfortably two weeks ago – yet the Bucuresti squad is of a different caliber.

Both sides have already made plans for the next season, when the Hungarian team will welcome a new coach, as Ambros Martin recently announced that he will step down this summer.

“I made the most difficult decision in my life. In the past six years, I have received a lot from the club, players and fans, but I feel it’s time to change something. Of course, it does not affect the current season, where we want to win on every front,” Martin said.

Meanwhile, CSM made their fans happy by signing a powerful trio from Vardar – Andrea Lekic, Jovanka Radicevic and Dragana Cvijic. In addition, five players from the current squad extended their contracts, so the star-studded Romanian team have reason to hope for a bright future.

Buducnost (MNE) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Saturday 24 February, 19:30 local time, live on

Neither side have officially claimed their quarter-final berth, but they are in a strong position to achieve that goal. For FTC, a draw in Podgorica will be enough to secure their place in the next phase.

Buducnost have been following the same pattern throughout the whole European season, winning all their games in Podgorica while losing when playing away. Given that trend, Buducnost have a good chance to take revenge on FTC for the clear 34:26 defeat in their main round opener.

However, maintaining their perfect home record will not be the easiest of tasks. FTC are a strong side, who boast the second most effective attack in the tournament, after Vardar, so Buducnost's defence will have to work hard.

Metz Handball (FRA) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Sunday 25 February, 15:00 local time, live on

With three main rounds matches remaining, both sides have already secured their passage to the quarter-finals, and Vardar need just one point to guarantee first place in the group.

Last season, the match between these teams in France brought about a sensation, as the ambitious Macedonian outfit were shocked with a 42:28 loss. On Sunday however, a similar score line does not seem likely, as Vardar have been exceptional throughout their European campaign.

Coach Irina Dibirova’s team are currently on a nine-match winning streak, which is a club record, and have not shown any signs of slowing down in recent games. Nevertheless, Metz will try to put an end to Vardar's dominance – and certainly have a chance to succeed.

The French champions have been particularly strong at home this season, winning all four games, which helped them to secure their quarter-final berth for the second straight year. But with six world champions in the squad, Metz now search for more – and they need to be able to beat heavyweights if they want to achieve their most ambitious goals.

SG BBM Bietigheim (GER) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
Sunday 25 February, 17:00 local time, live on

The German sides started the main round as Group B outsiders, and they still sit at the bottom of the group, equal on two points. While their chances to qualify for the quarter-finals appear slim, they still exist, so both Bietigheim and THC need a victory to keep their hopes alive.

The teams have already played each other three times this season, and while Bietigheim won in the German Cup Quarter-final, Thüringer were stronger in the Bundesliga clash and in the EHF Champions League derby last month.

Iveta Luzumova remains THC's trump card, as the Czech centre back continues to lead the scoring chart of the continent’s top flight, with 80 goals.

Meanwhile, injury-plagued Bietigheim, playing their maiden season in the competition, have not claimed any points in the main round yet, and are on a four-match losing streak. The home game against fellow German team seems to be an opportunity to end that run so, despite their problems, Bietigheim hope to jump at the chance.

TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cg