|12.10.2016, 15:00||◄ last page|
NEWS REPORT: Two powerhouses sit squarely at the top of the very close expert rankings, which senses a power shift as the new season is bound to shock and excite
Györ and Rostov neck and neck atop the power ranking
As the busy summer of spectacular transfers has come to an end and the new Women’s EHF Champions League season begins on 14 October, ehfCL.com's experts seem to agree on one thing – with no clear-cut favourite this season, the competition is headlined by the big three: Györ, Rostov-Don and Vardar.
Journalists Björn Pazen, Peter Bruun, Bence Martha, Adrian Costeiu and Nemanja Savic have given their input on the early Women’s EHF Champions League favourites, ahead of the opening fixtures, with Gyor and Rostov sitting neck and neck atop the power ranking.
Furthermore, three of the top four expert-ranked teams are drawn in the same group (Group C), promising lots of excitement from the get-go.
Our Hungarian expert Bence Martha has admitted the sheer presence of big names on Györ team sheet gives them a slight edge – at least from the power ranking standpoint: “As usual Györ seems stronger than ever, but as usual it does not guarantee anything,” said Martha, leaving all options open for the discussion.
10. Metz Handball
The French champions make their Women’s EHF Champions League return after their last endeavour in 2014/15 ended in the main round, only a point short of a quarter-final berth.
Metz return with a young team, and aside from Nina Kamto Njitam’s retirement, a vastly unchanged squad for the new season, with two seasoned internationals Sladjana Pop Lazic and Beatrice Edwige to make for the absence of their stalwart line player.
Tactically, Metz will have the firepower of Ana Gros and Xenia Smits in the backcourt, as well as the promising playmaker Tamara Horacek to supply the goods.
A product of Buducnost handball school, Marina Rajcic, is in goal alongside French national team member Laura Glausser and they will be vital as the Lorriane-based team tackles the challenges of Buducnost, Thüringer and Glassverket in Group A.
9. FC Midtjylland
The Danish vice-champions have endured a turbulent summer, after the club decided to part ways with the coach of six years, Helle Thomsen. As a temporary measure the assistant coach Kristian Kristensen has been promoted to ensure a period of stability, approaching the opening fixtures in the so-called ‘group of death’ (Group C).
Meanwhile, the club has managed to keep their current setup intact for the most part, with the Danish national team members Fie Woller, Stine Jorgensen, and Louise Burgaard still at the club. Furthermore, the signing of the talented left back Eliza Buceschi would represent a coup for the club of their stature, and aid to their cause of fighting off the peril of Györ, Vardar and Rostov-Don in Group C.
8. Team Esbjerg
The Danish champions have been given a generous top eight spot ahead of their maiden Women’s EHF Champions League season.
Club’s leading star is without a doubt the Dutch left back marvel Estavana Polman. With Polman playing her fifth season for the club, most if not all the chances Lars Frederiksen’s team will have in the competition will rely on her abilities to create and execute chances.
The team that made to the EHF Cup Final back in 2014, is finally among the European elite and it is will be no coincidence if the quarter-final becomes a reality; should they be able to deliver performances of a consistently high standard in a rather playable Group D.
The experts give the two-time finalists and one-time champions Larvik only an outside chance of reaching the final showdown in Budapest.
Having lost their biggest star Nora Mork, Larvik will be looking to turn the page and start with a clean slate.
The head coach Tor Odvar Moen is certainly no stranger to what his pool of rotation players has to offer, having already effectively utilised the likes of the rising star Kristine Breistol, Amanda Kurtovic, as well as Nora’s vastly talented sibling Thea Mork.
Furthermore, the experience is there to be relied upon, in the name of the legendary Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth Koren and the Hammerseng-Edin backcourt partnership. Aided by the seasoned veterans such are Karolyn Dyhre Breivang and Marit Frafjord, the Norwegians will be no pushovers, despite the fact their squad appears rather thin in certain areas.
6. FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria
Hungarian runners-up FTC fall right in the middle of our power ranking, with a tendency to both impress and underwhelm. Their admittedly, rollercoaster form, mixed with the spells of sheer brilliance displayed last term, has certainly put them in the spotlight for all the right reasons, giving Gabor Elek’s team a solid base to build upon.
Having kept the core of the team in Zita Szucsanszki and Szandra Szollosi, FTC have pulled a coup by signing the seasoned Women’s EHF Champions League ace Danick Snelder, as well as the versatile Hungarian star Aniko Kovacsics.
The bottom line is, nobody really knows what can be expected from the Budapest-based team this season, and it is reflected in their ranking. However, with an adequate level of consistency and maybe a bit of luck, we might be in for a surprise package with a local club in a city which hosts the Women’s EHF FINAL4.
In contrast to the previous seasons, when Buducnost were among the odds-on favourites and the leaders of the expert ranks, this time, Dragan Adzic’s troops are only among the thereabouts for the top four come May.
With the recent results, or lack thereof, from the Montenegrin national team as the early indicator, 2016/17 is likely going to be a difficult season for the two-time champions.
Coincidently, the upcoming two seasons are going to be transitional for the Montenegrin powerhouse. As the current crop of youngsters enjoys the increasing game-time, Adzic is aiming for the long haul.
On the upside, the feisty Montenegrins have finally shed the pressure of expectations, which may be beneficial for the blend of youth and experience in their current setup. It may well be too underestimating labelling the Montenegrin powerhouse a dark horse this season, but playing with freedom created by confidence in their evolving game, may exert some inspired performances when it matters the most.
4. CSM Bucuresti
The Women’s EHF Champions League correspondents concur the defending champions CSM are among the hot favourites for the Women’s EHF FINAL4 berth.
The departure of Kim Rasmussen, whom many credit as the man behind their monumental success, one of team’s top scorers Ana Paula Rodrigues, as well as Mayssa Pessoa, whose heroics in goal secured CSM the trophy last term after penalty thriller, may have weakened the defending champions.
All the experts see the defending champions as the force to be reckoned with, however, at a current point, the Romanian powerhouse look to fall short of providing enough credentials to keep the trophy in Bucharest.
3. HC Vardar
Could this be the season when Vardar finally make a step forward to the final? Has Indira Kastratovic found the means to write her name in the women’s handball history books, as the first to win the elusive trophy as a player and as a coach?
After having tried with various different approaches, from Jan Pytlick to their very own David Davis, the team is back to the basics with Indira Kastratovic as the sole tactician.
However, the Macedonian giants have done excellent business in the transfer market to shed some of the deadwood and bring in quality reinforcements, all the while retaining the core of the team.
Having likely the deepest squad in the competition, with every position covered with a world-class player, the newcomers Alexandra Lacrabere, Camilla Herrem and Mayssa Pessoa have the ability to fill the voids that have hindered the wealthy Macedonian project so far. However, after several years of wandering, can Vardar settle and successfully execute a system that will bring them glory? The new season will tell.
1. Győri Audi ETO KC
The Hungarian powerhouse has certainly created a dream team for the upcoming season, able to take them back to the throne. As last season’s signings have had ample time to bed in the system of Ambros Martin, the club has found sufficient depth with the most recent intake of talented youngsters; while the arguably signing of the season Nora Mork, fits like a hand in glove in Győr’s staggering backcourt.
Mork might just be that missing piece of the puzzle, as the right back position was a problem area for the Hungarian champions in the past seasons; with the likes of Susann Müller and Linn Jorum Sulland falling somewhat short of the expectations.
Furthermore, Björn Pazen sides with Bence Martha, by underlining Nora Mork as the difference maker for the stronger-than-ever Győr side: “Thanks to the signing of Nora Mörk, the big favourites are ready to take revenge,” claims Pazen, and very few would dare to challenge his discerning judgment.
However, Peter Bruun the EHF’s Scandinavian handball connoisseur, has shed a cloud of doubt on Győr’s title credentials.
Bruun, who an in-depth insight to all the ins and out of his compatriot Jan Leslie’s methods, has rightfully heaped praise on Rostov’s transfer dealings, unequivocally singling them out as the early favourites: “Their signings make a Royal Flush compared to Györ´s Straight Flush,” said Bruun.
And indeed, by acquiring the likes of Anna Vyakhireva, Alexandrina Barbosa, Siraba Dembele and Ana Paula Rodrigues, Rostov have shown they mean real business this season, having just narrowly missed out on the final showdown last term.
Moreover, Rostov have shown arguably the most consistent handball throughout the last season, and these inspired signings truly give Jan Leslie a plethora of options to rely upon in keeping the desired levels of consistency all the way to the Women’s EHF FINAL4; or maybe even get them all the way – time will tell.
TEXT: Nemanja Savic / cor