Things we know after the first-leg quarter-finalsArticle
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TALKING POINTS: The first-leg Women’s EHF Champions League Quarter-finals are complete and we are one step closer to Budapest. Here’s what we learned in the first round of knock-out games

Things we know after the first-leg quarter-finals

The first leg of Women’s EHF Champions League Quarter-finals saw many statements made, as Rostov-Don and HC Vardar continued their strong seasons, while CSM Bucuresti and Györi Audi ETO KC found their best form – led by their killer back courts.  

With the final decisions as to who reaches the Women’s EHF FINAL4 in Budapest to be made on Saturday and Sunday, we take a look at what we learned in the first-leg quarter-finals.

In-form Rostov extend winning streak

The Russian side have demonstrated arguably the best form in the competition of late, having climbed to second place in their main round group in the final round. By taking a victory in the first of their two quarter-final fixtures, 31:29 away against FTC, Rostov have extended their winning streak to four matches – so the confidence is high for coach Frederic Bougeant’s side.

Rostov have seemingly forgotten the bitter taste of defeat after their impressive eight-match unbeaten run in the Women’s EHF Champions League, having last lost a match on November 6, with Györ proving to be their kryptonite in both clashes so far in 2017/18.

Looking at the bigger picture, most of the pieces have come together for Rostov this season, though it took them years to find the perfect balance in the team.

A winning streak has many good sides, but only one bad – inevitably, it comes to an end.

The longer the streak, the bigger the scalp for other teams eager to get one over the in-form side – especially feisty FTC, who will be itching to set the record straight next weekend.

The Per Johansson factor

Swedish tactician Per Johansson is back at CSM, and what we saw from the Romanian side last week was nothing short of magic. As much as the performances throughout the season have been ranging from decent to very good, CSM were always, at the very least, about the shock factor.

However, the impact the club expects apparently could not have been made under the guidance of Helle Thomsen. Therefore, the excellent motivator Johansson was brought in, in a bid to mimic the accomplishment of another outspoken Scandinavian, Kim Rasmussen – who brought the first and the most recent Women’s EHF Champions League trophy to Bucharest.

And Johansson has earned his plaudits on the court, having breathed new life into CSM’s somewhat stale performances. The impact was most apparent with the return of CSM’s biggest weapon – cooperation between Cristina Neagu and Isabelle Gullden. The pair worked in unison flawlessly, inspiring the dominant 34:21 win against Metz, which may have already booked CSM a ticket to Budapest and with it, another challenge for X-factor Johansson.

Brave FCM bring the best out of Vardar

Vardar won their first-leg quarter-final away against Midtjylland (24:23) as expected, however, nobody foresaw last season’s finalists struggling as much as they did.

Vardar were shoved out of their comfort zone, as injury-struck Midtjylland put on a good show in front of their home fans, leading by up to four goals during the match. The Macedonian side, who have enjoyed a dream season so far, found themselves in all kinds of trouble in the second half, at 16:12 for FCM.

Vardar showed exceptional determination to fight back and level the score with 14 minutes remaining. Andrea Lekic orchestrated the attack, while Dragana Cvijic was a menacing presence for the defence once again, with eight goals scored.

But the most important conclusion after the match full of twists and turns was that Vardar needed this, badly. The Macedonian powerhouse were never as good at fighting back as they were at dictating the play. Vardar were abruptly pushed out of their comfort zone and responded well ahead of the rematch at Jane Sandanski Arena.

This performance alone should send an encouraging signal to Irina Dibirova’s team, looking ahead to what they hope will be their fifth Women’s EHF FINAL4 berth.

Eduarda Amorim is back

The good news amid a sea of injuries for Györ is that Eduarda Amorim is now well and truly back with the team following a leg injury that kept her away for months. The Brazilian star crowned her return with eight goals in the ‘classic’ win against Buducnost (26:20), leaving no reservation about her readiness to help the team ahead of the biggest challenges.

The return of Amorim is probably the best thing that could have happened to the Hungarian powerhouse at this point, as the Brazilian is the spinal cord of their team – key to both their defence and offence.

With Amorim’s return, Györ’s chances have substantially increased and we can safely say the tides have turned, as long as there are no additions to the Hungarian powerhouse’s treatment table.

TEXT: Nemanja Savic / cg