Five talking points after four away winsArticle
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TALKING POINTS: Four away wins and two teams that can reach the business end of the Women’s EHF Champions League for the first time are the highlights of this week’s action in the premium European competition
»2018-19 Women's News

Five talking points after four away wins

The business end of the Women’s EHF Champions League is closer and closer, with one month separating four sides from their chance of glory at the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4. Györ, Rostov, Metz and Vipers all took important wins in the first leg of the quarter-finals and are the favourites to win their berths for Budapest, which means that fresh faces will tough it out for the trophy, while Ambros Martin can set up a memorable clash against his former team.

No home win in the first leg

For the first time since the 2014/15 season, when the current system was introduced, not one of the four home teams won the first leg of the quarter-finals. HCM Baia Mare disposed of Dinamo Volgograd in the system’s first season, Vardar drubbed Larvik one year later, and CSM Bucuresti won against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and Metz Handball in the past two seasons. 

This time however, the teams that finished their main round groups in first and second position swept the board. Surprisingly, Odense were the closest to pulling off an upset against previously undefeated Györ, but the Hungarian side were strong enough to resist the Danish team’s challenge and take a 29:28 lead into the second round, where they are still overwhelming favourites. 

CSM and Buducnost had little chance against Metz and Vipers, while Rostov defeated FTC 29:26 despite their injury trouble. 

Handball is an unpredictable sport, but the stage is set for a DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 featuring Györ, Metz, Vipers Kristiansand and Rostov-Don as the last four teams standing in this season’s Women’s EHF Champions League.

Two newbies in the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4?

With Metz and Vipers Kristiansand taking commanding five-goal leads against CSM and Buducnost after away wins, the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 looks poised to welcome two newbies into the fold. Both CSM and Buducnost are familiar with the business end of the top European competition, but their injury woes have prevented them from a successful season. 

Metz and Vipers were both dark horses after the group phase. The main round only cemented their status as dangerous sides to play against and the first leg of the quarter-finals simply confirmed their superb form this season. How will they cope in Budapest? Only time will tell, but experience plays a key role in the unique format, with two games in two days proving the ultimate challenge. 

Neither Metz nor Vipers have experienced it live. Therefore, if the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 does feature two rookies, they will still be considered underdogs. 

CSM finally crumbled 

What looked to be impossible, judging from the star-studded line-up, became reality last Friday. CSM Bucuresti finally cracked under their injury-ridden pressure, as their season crumbled against Metz. The Romanian side never took the lead against the French champions and had no solutions, with Cristina Neagu, Amanda Kurtovic and Dragana Cvijic in the stands. 

Despite a back injury, Andrea Lekic scored nine times – but it was nowhere near enough to lift the Romanian side past Metz, who won comfortably, 31:26. With half the starting seven out due to injury, the team with huge ambitions will probably miss the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 for the first time in their Champions League history. 

However, the end of the season will be welcomed by the Romanian powerhouse, who are, once again, morphing into a totally different team, with nine players coming in. But after a disappointing season, is it time for the Romanian side to focus on developing a team, rather than change everything on a season-by-season basis?

Rostov hitting the right form

Ambros Martin was named the Women’s EHF Champions League All-star Team coach for the past four years and won the competition with Györ four times in the past five seasons. His move to Rostov sent shockwaves into women’s handball, but the decorated Spanish coach did not start from scratch with the Russian side. A strong team, with huge ambitions, was ready to take the next step. 

After missing the final last season, Rostov look poised to seal the deal and clinch another DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4 berth – even without EHF EURO 2018 MVP Anna Vyakhireva, who is out for the season due to an elbow injury. 

The defence-first approach still works wonders for Martin, as Rostov took an impressive 29:26 win against FTC, who were on a six-game unbeaten streak in the competition, including two 32:32 draws against Györ. 

With a lucky draw for Budapest, Rostov could see their objective through, as they look in form and could beat any other team in the business end of the competition.

Györ show their vulnerability

What about Györ? The Hungarian side are still the team to beat in the competition, but their away form seems a bit patchy. They won six and drew one up until this point in the competition, but they should not have waited until the dying minutes of the quarter-final’s first leg against Odense to seal the victory. 

Györ took a five-goal lead in the first half and extended it to eight goals up until the 40th minute, before Odense mounted a comeback and even take the lead with five minutes to spare. It seems the Hungarian side relaxed and took the win for granted, but this should be no excuse when analysing the game before the second leg. 

Györ’s 11 goals in the second half was their worst performance this season and this statistic should be treated as a warning sign by coach Gabor Danyi. There is no room for error in games with such pressure as at the DELO WOMEN’S EHF FINAL4.

TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg