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08.09.2016, 16:50◄ last page     


GROUP 2 PREVIEW: Football-supported Bera Bera host qualification tournament, but have high hurdles ahead to continue their journey to the group matches.
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From San Sebastian to Europe

One EHF Champions League debutant, the record winners of the competition and two teams with a long international experience will face in San Sebastian on Friday and Saturday for a spot in the group matches. Tournament host and Spanish champions Super Amara Bera Bera will face four times Champions League winner Hypo Niederösterreich in the semi-final, while German runners-up HC Leipzig are supposed to be the favourites in their semi-final against new Belarusian champions HC Gomel.

The winner of this tournament, which will be decided in Saturday’s final, will join Macedonian champions Vardar, Russian champions Astrakhanochka and Hungarian runners-up FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria in Group B.

All remaining teams will proceed to the EHF Cup. The fourth ranked side will start in qualification round 2, those on the positions two and three enter the competition in qualification round 3.

HC Leipzig (GER) vs HC Gomel (BLR)
Friday, 16:00 hrs local time at San Sebastián, live on ehfTV.com

Maybe it is a good omen for HC Leipzig to face Gomel in their semi-final: In the successful 2013/14 and 2014/15 qualifications, the German runners-up proceeded after beating Belarusian champions in their semi-final, in that case, it was Minsk twice.

Leipzig had planned to host the qualification tournament, but due to the parallel football Bundesliga match of RB Leipzig vs Borussia Dortmund it was impossible.

But still the German record champions are confident to at least make it to the final: “We are in a favourite role, but we have strong respect for Gomel,” coach Norman Rentsch said. His team (current German cup winner) lost the German Super Cup match against champions Thüringer HC (21:22) last weekend.

They planned to be in the venue already on Thursday afternoon but their plans have been halted as their flight from Berlin to Madrid was cancelled for technical reasons and the team had to find an alternate route to San Sebastian.

While HCL are constant participants on the international stage in all EHF club competitions, HC Gomel will open a new chapter of their history: The match against Leipzig will be their first Champions League game after participating twice in the EHF Cup and once in the former Cup Winners’ Cup.

Hypo Niederösterreich (AUT) vs Super Amara Bera Bera (ESP)
Friday, 18:30 hrs. local time at San Sebastián, live on ehfTV.com

It is a completely new situation for Hypo Niederösterreich: 23 straight times since the start of the Women’s EHF Champions League in 1993, the Austrian record champions (40 straight titles) had been seeded directly for the group stage, now the team of new coach Martin Matuschkowitz has to go through the qualification for the very first time.

And the hurdle for the four times Champions League winners is high, as hosts Super Amara Bera Bera are super-ambitious. After two years, when the All-Spanish team of coach Montserrat Puche had become Spanish champions but did not use the right to participate in the Champions League due to financial reasons, a new setup strengthens the club.

This week, Bera Bera announced the cooperation with Real Sociedad football club in all terms of management and mutual support. The Bera Bera players will wear Real Sociedad’s jerseys during the Champions League qualification tournament, and hope for a lot of football fans to support them.

However they will have to fight without their and Spanish national team long-term captain Eli Pinedo who announced her retirement just after the Rio Olympics.

“We are eager to make the step to the group phase, as all people in and around the club supported us in all departments to have the base to compete with the best European teams,” club President Fernando Diez Mintegi said, when the cooperation with the football club and the city was announced.

Hypo will arrive at San Sebastian with some new faces in the squad, such as French Audrey Bruneau or Danish line player Christina Haurum. Some of their “old stars” like Marina Budecevic or Gorica Acimovic are still wearing Hypo’s jersey.

As a start of a new era, Hypo completely changed its branding with a new logo, and new image video and a “fighters’ claim”. The record winners will know their fate soon, if the 24th group stage berth will be clinched.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / br

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