Vardar top power ranking; Hungarian teams hot on their heels
The Macedonian side takes top spot in the handball experts’ ranking, while FTC and Györ completing the top three spots.
As the season winds down and the business end of the Women’s EHF Champions League grows closer and closer, the nip and tuck battle between the powerhouses of the competition is more entertaining than ever.
There will be only one champion, but for the moment everything is still to play for, with 28 games still to play until we find out if CSM Bucuresti retain their title or a challenger will rise up and win it all in Budapest.
Up until the FINAL4 in the first weekend in May, handball experts from around Europe have agreed on their latest power rankings, with three rounds still to be played in the Main Round.
10. Team Esbjerg
A flurry of injuries meant that the Danish champions only had 11 field players and one goalkeeper for the game against CSM Bucuresti. The eight-goal defeat does not tell the whole story, as the game was in reality much closer: the Romanian powerhouse had a close battle up until the 40th minute with the Danish champions. Mathematically, Esbjerg can still fight for a place in the quarter-finals, but their fate is out of their own hands.
9. Thüringer HC
Losing against Metz in the group phase could end up being their kryptonite for a quarter-final berth, as well as facing FTC and Vardar, the only teams with a 100 per cent record in the main round in their the last two games. However, their free-flowing attack could spring a surprise, just like it did when the German team nearly undid Vardar, before their comeback was ultimately stopped in the last minutes by David Davis’ side.
It has been an unusual season for Dragan Adzic’s team, especially in the main round, with two home defeats against Vardar and FTC-Cargo Rail Hungaria. Buducnost will earn a quarter-final berth, but their current form is erratic and could see them out of the FINAL4 for the first time in three years. Dragana Cvijic has already signed for Vardar, while Cristina Neagu is CSM bound; therefore, signaling a total rebuild of the team for next season is in the works.
7. Metz Handball
The French side has never lost by more than three goals this season and had close games both against FTC and Vardar. Metz have the most effective defence in the Women’s EHF Champions League after nine games, with 202 goals conceded - an average of 22,4 goals per game. Owning the tiebreaker against Thüringer means that they are favourites for a quarter-final berth against the German side.
6. FC Midtjylland
The Danes have been protecting their home court against the likes of Larvik, CSM, Györ and Rostov and are currently sitting in second place in their group, thanks to their home performances. One of the biggest surprises of the competition is FCM and they will have a chance to break the four-game losing streak in away games against Esbjerg on Sunday. They will look for a clean sweep in their last three matches in order to keep their place in the table.
5. CSM Bucuresti
It has been an up-and-down season for the Romanian title holders, who alternated amazing games, like the ones against Rostov, with painful defeats at the hands of Györ and FCM. Three key players – Ayglon, Jørgensen and Grubisic – have just signed extensions and that will help the team in the end of the season. Signing Cristina Neagu for the next two seasons has also shown CSM’s ambitions, but their current season relies heavily on the game against Larvik.
Losing Nora Mørk last summer has been painful for the Norwegian champions, but actually they emerged more powerful than in the previous seasons. Away draws against CSM and Györ, after them leading for big chunks of both games, can only mean that Larvik are here and will never back down. They will host CSM and Györ and try to break FCM’s winning streak on home court in the last three rounds.
The Hungarian powerhouse was the pre-season favorite to win the title after a two-year hiatus, but they slowly lost their way as the season progressed. Heidi Løke’s absence is proving difficult to cope with, both in defence and in attack, but Györ still boasts the best goal difference in the competition, +42 goals, and the most effective attack, 272 goals scored in nine games.
2. FTC-Cargo Rail Hungaria
A clean sweep in the first three games of the main round, with an average goal difference of 6,3 goals per game pumped up the Hungarian hopes for a FINAL4 berth in their home city. Szucsanszki, Pena and Hornyak have been close to unstoppable this season. With their convincing win, 33:25 against Buducnost, FTC have been in top form this season, but their loss against Vardar, 37:24, in the group phase is still in their minds.
It is only natural that the only unbeaten team in the competition tops the current power rankings. Alongside FTC, the Macedonian side is the only team to have won all their main round games, albeit by two/three-goal margins. Vardar survived a scare against Thüringer in their last game, but their amazing backcourt and the depth of their roster are still enough to propel them to being the current favourites for winning the title. Hosting Buducnost and Thüringer in two of the last three rounds will surely help boost their chances for the first place in the group.