Elek: “We will try to go for that miracle”Article
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QUARTER-FINAL PREVIEW: There were no surprises in the first leg, but shocks can still happen, as FTC hope to unseat in-form Rostov to clinch their first ever Women’s EHF FINAL4 berth

Elek: “We will try to go for that miracle”

Metz will need more than a miracle if they are to upset CSM Bucuresti and secure their first Women’s EHF FINAL4 berth, after losing the first leg in Romania with an astonishing result of 34:21.

The same can be said for Buducnost, as the young team needs to erase a six-goal deficit and win in Györ for the first time in 12 years to proceed to their fifth consecutive EHF FINAL4.

On the other hand, Vardar have the smallest advantage over FCM after the first leg, 24:23, but will play at home, where they won six out of six matches this season.

And last but not least, FTC hope to turn the tables and win in Rostov, to clinch their first ticket to the FINAL4 played in their home city. Coach Gabor Elek says the Hungarian side need a “miracle” to do so.

• Rostov and Vardar have immaculate showings at home, with six wins out of six games this season
• Vardar and Buducnost are the only two sides to boast 100 per cent presence at the Women’s EHF FINAL4 in Budapest, qualifying for every event since the format was introduced in 2013/14
• Cristina Neagu is the favourite to clinch another top scorer trophy (first in 2015), having scored 93 goals for CSM this season
• Györ have lost only one game from seven at home against Buducnost

Rostov-Don (RUS) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Saturday 14 April, 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Neither team has reached the heights of the Women’s EHF FINAL4 before, but that will change after the final whistle in Rostov.

The Russian side have the upper hand, 31:29, after they thoroughly dominated in Budapest. But a two-goal margin is clearly a slim one and can easily be overturned with a couple of costly mistakes.

However, Rostov have a 100 per cent home record this season, and are currently riding a six-game winning streak in their Palace of Sport, including victories against Györ and CSM Bucuresti. Rostov’s last loss came five months ago, against Györ. Therefore, FTC have a mountain to climb if they want their first-ever Women’s EHF FINAL4 ticket.

“Now, we need to play another match in Rostov-on-Don, and this will be a totally different game. We have already started thinking about it. By no means are we already qualified,” said Rostov coach Frederic Bougeant after the first-leg encounter.

FTC will miss goalkeeper Melinda Szikora, who tore her ligaments in the first half of the first leg and will miss the next six months on court. But that will not stop the Hungarian side from trying.

“We know all about Rostov’s great home form. We need a miracle. We will try and go for that miracle,” said FTC coach Gabor Elek.

HC Vardar (MKD) vs FC Midtjylland (DEN)
Saturday 14 April, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

This season, FC Midtjylland only won three times – two games against Brest and one game against local rivals NFH – yet they were minutes away from creating one of the biggest surprises in the Women’s EHF Champions League 2017/18.

The Danish side enjoyed a four-goal lead in the first half of the first leg, but only scored three times in the last 12 minutes of the game, while Vardar snatched the win, 24:23.

The odds are totally different and stacked against Midtjylland in the second leg, as Vardar have lost only two home games in the last three seasons.

The Macedonian side recorded six wins in as many games in Skopje this season and will surely try to apply that successful game plan against FCM. Moreover, Vardar emerged unscathed from 12 of their 13 games this season – their only loss was a 22:24 away defeat versus Metz.

“It is explainable that we showed some weaknesses, but I can only say just one thing: The Champions League is happening now, and we all must show our strength now and focus on winning. We need to fight until the end. That was what brought our win in Denmark,” Vardar left wing Polina Kuznetsova told ehfCL.com.

It is a do-or-die season for the Macedonian side, who already announced that all their players will leave at the end of the season. Vardar are now favourites to become the only team to take part in all five Women’s EHF FINAL4 tournaments in Budapest. Are they strong enough to win it all?

Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs Buducnost (MNE)
Saturday 14 April, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Injury-ridden Györ did exactly what they needed to secure an impressive 26:20 win against Buducnost – coincidentally, the same score that saw the Hungarian side progress to the final last season at Buducnost’s expense. Though only a year has passed between the games, there is a stark contrast between the two sides.

Buducnost have the youngest average age in the competition by far, at 21.5 years, while Györ count a plethora of superstars on the court. There was little surprise that Györ won the first encounter, as the Hungarian side had the upper hand with their sturdy defence, but Buducnost might have hoped for more, as the guests were depleted.

Györ became the fifth team to score 5,000 goals in the Women’s EHF Champions League one week ago, after Buducnost, Hypo Niederösterreich, RK Krim Mercator and Larvik HK.

“We are focusing on the results and for the time being, we have done a very good job. I am very proud of everyone here and I think we all did our best to give ourselves the best chance to repeat the win in Budapest from last season,” said Eduarda Amorim, after returning from an injury lay-off last week in scorching form, scoring eight goals.

Nycke Groot and Stine Oftedal are likely to miss the second leg against Buducnost and hope to be ready if Györ proceed to the Women’s EHF FINAL4, while Zsuzsanna Tomori and Nora Mørk will be out after season-ending injuries.

In the first leg, Buducnost relied too heavily on Milena Raicevic, as the Montenegrin playmaker scored nine times – 45 per cent of her team’s goals – while no other Buducnost player tallied more than two.

The Montenegrin side’s chances appear to be slim, as Buducnost have only won on Györ’s home court once, 12 years ago, to clinch the Women’s Cup Winners’ Cup title.

Metz Handball (FRA) vs CSM Bucuresti (ROU)
Sunday 15 April, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Probably not even the most optimistic CSM fan or any player from the Romanian powerhouse expected a 13-goal win against Metz, after another underwhelming main round for the team that used to be coached by Helle Thomsen.

After the Danish coach was replaced by Per Johansson, the Romanian champion steamrolled their way to a 34:21 away win that essentially sealed their Women’s EHF FINAL4 berth.

However, “never say never,” seems to be the motto for CSM, as the players and staff unanimously stated that there have been miracles in handball, and nothing is done and dusted.

“We are not thinking about the EHF FINAL4 in Budapest. We still have one game to play against Metz. You should not ask about what will happen one month later and we should not think about that either,” said CSM right back Amanda Kurtovic.

But Metz will need a miracle to earn their first berth among the top four teams in the Women’s EHF Champions League. It will take a lot to rock CSM’s boat, as the Romanian side are nearly unstoppable in their high-octane attack.

“For the first time this season, CSM looked like [they were] firing from all cylinders. We need that also in the second leg against Metz,” said Per Johansson, who is preparing himself for a second consecutive EHF FINAL4 appearance after taking command of the same squad in March last year.

Cristina Neagu could be on the way to claiming her second top goal scorer trophy, after the one shared with Vardar’s Andrea Penezic in 2015 (102 goals each). The Romanian stalwart, who scored 10 times in the first leg, is 12 goals behind Czech playmaker Iveta Luzumova, but Luzumova’s team, Thüringer, are out of the competition.

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg