Podravka seek return to Europe’s top flight
HC Podravka Vegeta have been missing from the Women’s EHF Champions League Group Matches since 2016. In the past two seasons, the Champions League winners from 1996 failed to make it out of their qualification tournament as they stumbled over Norwegian teams Glassverket (2016/17) and Vipers Kristianstad (2017/18).
This season, with a new coach and significantly changed roster, Podravka are having another go. Under the guidance of Olympic champion Zlatko Saracevic, who joined from PPD Zagreb, and boasted by several experienced newcomers Podravka will host their qualification tournament.
In front of their home crowd at the Fran Galovic arena, Podravka will first have to win against Turkish champion Muratpasa Belediyesi on Saturday at 16:00 hrs (live on ehfTV.com). If they succeed, it will come down to a final against either Romanian side SCM Craiova or Serbian champions ZORK Jagodina on Sunday. Only the winner advances to the group matches, and will join defending champions Györi Audi ETO KC, Thüringer HC and Krim Mercator in Group C.
Podravka's roster has changed significantly
Compared to the 2017/2018 season, Podravka’s roster has changed significantly, with players like Karyna Yezhykava, Natalia Chigirinova, Maria Holesova, goalkeeper Jovana Risovic and Alena Ikhneva all joining the team as reinforcements.
Despite the many changes, Saracevic is convinced that his team is ready for the challenge. “The team that wants to win against us has to play excellent handball. We are a new team but our desire to win is huge,” the coach said.
Podravka will miss right wing Nikolina Zadravec due to illness, but otherwise the squad is ready for two important matches within 24 hours.
“We have to prepare for both matches at the same time,” Saracevic said. “The focus is on the match against Muratpasa, but we also have two options ready for Jagodina or Craiova in the second match.”
Eager to put Podravka back on the handball map
The players are eager to put Podravka back on the handball map, 22 years after the club celebrated its biggest triumph by defeating Hypo Niederösterreich in the two-leg final of 1995/96.
“The atmosphere is excellent in the team,” said one of the new signings, left back Ikhneva. “We are training a lot, hanging out together and we all want to give 100 percent to win this. If we give everything on the court than we can win against anyone.”
Podravka are preparing for a return to the big stage. With the support of the home crowd behind them, the hosts are regarded joined favourites with reigning Women’s EHF Cup champions Craiova to advance from this qualification group.
The many Croatian fans certainly want the Women’s EHF Champions League back in their city.
"This weekend ahead of us should be a handball festival with four top teams and four amazing matches. Aside from handball, we have also prepared a fun weekend for all our fans," sports director and former player Miranda Tatari Simunovic said.