Five conclusions after the main roundArticle
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TALKING POINTS: The main round is over and there are only eight teams remaining in the fight for the big prize. We examine the last set of matches from the main round and look forward to the next games in the Women’s EHF Champions League
»2018-19 Women's News

Five conclusions after the main round

The business end of the Women’s EHF Champions League is upon us and teams are already setting up for the quarter-finals. Györi Audi ETO KC still look like the team to beat, as they are on a 21-game unbeaten streak, while Metz Handball have shown they can be undone if a game plan is executed properly.

More woes for CSM Bucuresti, FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria hitting the right form and the quarter-final pairings are on the menu in this week’s talking points.

Who can stop Györ?

Since January 2018, Györ have amassed 21 consecutive games without a loss. Their last dropped game came against CSM Bucuresti, 22:28, in the 2017/18 main round. The streak is only one game shy of Györ’s best in the history of the competition and will be surpassed if the Hungarian side emerge from the quarter-final double header against Odense unscathed. 

During this streak, the title holders won 19 games and drew two – both against FTC in this main round –  but this season has been different. The philosophy change since Ambros Martin left transformed the team into an offensive juggernaut, with Györ scoring at least 30 goals in 11 of this season’s 12 games. 

While the defence has been leaking goals this season, the astonishing back line – which once again features Eduarda Amorim after her return from injury – carries the load. Györ need to be stopped in attack if they are to be beaten. But who can do so?

Another disappointment from CSM

Star-studded CSM’s injury woes have been well documented and they appear a little disjointed. 

“I can understand that we miss in attack. Everybody does. But I cannot accept playing without heart and soul – that is dispiriting,” said right wing Jovanka Radicevic after the 23:23 draw against Thüringer HC on Friday. They were battling for second place in the group but CSM fell to fourth after the surprising result, thereby setting up a clash against Metz in the next phase of the competition.

Andrea Lekic’s return to the fold for the double header against the French side will surely help, as the Serbian playmaker was sorely missed. Majda Mehmedovic should also be on the court, but will that be enough for the Romanian powerhouse? 

Time will tell, but patience is running low once again at CSM. So far it seems this is a season to forget for them. 

FTC hitting form at the right time

Hitting the right form in the business end of the season is key and this looks exactly like what FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria are doing. The Hungarian side are in the quarter-finals for the fourth consecutive time, but this season looks like their biggest chance to progress to the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 for the first time. 

Alongside Györ, FTC were the only unbeaten team in the main round of the competition – with four wins and two draws – and they are looking very exciting in attack. Their defence could use some work, but the average of goals received per game fell from 31 in the group phase to 29.1 in the main round.

The most impressive thing about FTC, however, is how they nurtured backs Noemi Hafra and Katrin Klujber into the side. 20-year-old Hafra contributed 65 goals this season and is a contender for the top scorer of the season. 

Hafra’s fellow junior world champion Klujber, who is still 19, was voted EHF Player of the Month in February after scoring 44 times in six games following her Champions League debut in January. The right back has three games in which she scored nine goals and never left the court without tallying a minimum of five. 

Metz lose after deviating from their philosophy

Metz’s philosophy was crystal clear from the start: strong defence will bring wins. They lost only their second game of the season in the last round, when they allowed already eliminated Kobenhavn to put 36 past them – the second largest number of goals the French side received in one game. 

This did not hurt Metz, as they were already group winners, but can serve as a blueprint for how they can be undone by a strong team. The motivation will be higher than it was for the match versus Kobenhavn, as they only need to survive three games to do that. It would be interesting to see a clash against Györ, where the top attack would meet one of the best defences in the competition.

Four exciting quarter-finals

The quarter-final pairings have been set and they could hardly look more exciting. Györ appear to be a shoo-in against Odense, but nothing is decided until the final whistle. 

The other three line-ups should produce interesting handball. High-flying Metz were eliminated by CSM Bucuresti in this phase last season. However, this time, considering CSM’s injury woes, they are the favourites. Still, the Romanian side have a history of performing as the underdogs.

Milena Raicevic-less Buducnost will have a tough time against Vipers Kristiansand, as the Norwegian side want to finish their best-ever European season in style. Buducnost have the experience and grit, but Vipers are one of the teams to watch this season. 

Last but not least, Rostov have their own injury problems, with EHF EURO 2018 MVP Anna Vyakhireva out for the season. A stout defence will be key against FTC in their do-or-die clashes. 

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg