|13.10.2016, 15:00||◄ last page|
GROUP B PREVIEW: The two favourites of the group are going to face each other in Skopje, while the Russian champion Astrakhanochka will make their historic debut in the EHF Champions League.
Favourites clash in Skopje, Astrakhanochka to make debut
The first matchday in Group B offers only exciting games. The main focus will probably be on the match in Skopje where the ambitious Macedonian champions HC Vardar will try to beat their supposedly biggest rival in the group, FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria.
However, the match in Astrakhan is also expected to draw attention. The current Russian champion have never competed in the EHF Champions League before, so Germany's HC Leipzig will have a honourable role to be Astrakhanochka's first opponent ever in this tournament.
In the three previous seasons, HC Vardar inevitably reached the FINAL4 of the EHF Champions League but lost in the semi-final. Now the Macedonian team are making another attempt to conquer Europe.
A year ago, they did not start well in the group, losing at home against Györ (22:27). And now once again the Skopje-based side face a Hungarian opposition in their opening match.
During the summer, Vardar strengthened their international squad with five players: the goalkeeper Mayssa Pessoa, the wings Tamara Mavsar and Camilla Herrem and the backs Dziana Ilyina and Alexandra Lacrabere.
Two players, the centre back Andrea Lekic and the right back Andrea Klikovac, are currently injured and will miss the Friday game. Lekic has recently had a surgery on her meniscus, while Klikovac has an eye infection.
The head coach of Vardar Indira Kastratovic says: "I am happy with the way our girls have been working and training, and I hope they will carry it over to the Friday game. We are looking forward to the start of our European campaign, but this desire should not burn us.
"The new players have adjusted quite easily, and the only problem is that we had too little exhibition games. However, there should be no excuses."
For FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, this is already the 17th start in the EHF Champions League. The team from Budapest may lack consistency at times, yet they have a big potential.
In the summer, the Hungarian runner-up managed to keep most of their leaders and signed a couple of classy new players such as Danick Snelder from the Netherlands and the Hungary star Aniko Kovacsics.
The experienced Montenegrin left back Marija Jovanovic became the most recent addition to FTC squad earlier this week, having moved from Paris Issy Hand.
The team from Budapest are obviously committed to get points in Macedonia, but they behave in a humble and modest way. "We know that we are not favourites. Vardar are a very strong team, and we need a small miracle to beat them in Skopje," says the head coach Gabor Elek.
As many as twelve players left the team during the summer as well as the head coach Evgeni Trefilov who has moved to domestic rivals Kuban Krasnodar.
Trefilov's successor Mikhail Seregin relies mainly on young players, yet Russian handball is rich in talents and traditions. In the Russian league, Astrakhanochka currently take the second place behind Rostov-Don with 8 points after 5 games.
But the EHF Champions League is another level, where lack of experience may play a crucial role.
HC Leipzig are a much more experienced team. The German side advanced to the main round of the EHF Champions League three times in history and hope to do it once again.
Now they are even hungrier for success as they had to skip the previous edition of the tournament. In the qualification the German Cup winners were too strong for both Belarusian champions HC Gomel and Austria's Hypo Niederösterreich in the qualifying round.
HC Leipzig's squad did not change a lot since last year, but currently the head coach Norman Rentsch faces some problems. The key player Saskia Lang suffered a muscle injury and will have to miss three to four weeks, and the left wing Michelle Urbricht is injured too.
Also the national team line player Luisa Schulze transferred to bundesliga rivals from Bietigheim only last week. Without them, Leipzig lost on Wednesday the German Bundesliga game against HC Thüringer in a tight battle (23:24).
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / br