Group of death starts on courts of finalists
In any given season, the Women’s EHF Champions League draw will produce a group that is labeled the “group of death”. This season, however, the label has a new meaning, after the draw pitted last year’s finalists, CSM and Győr, against each other, while another Women's EHF FINAL4 candidate, Rostov-Don will try to shock the two favourites.
While Györ have focused on maintaining their core group of players, CSM and Rostov were active in the transfer market, completing several important transfers.
In the group’s opening game, Györ and Midtjylland will face off, with the hosts failing to win against their opponents last season
Ana Paula Rodrigues will face her former teammates after completing a move to Rostov-Don
Györ’s coach, Ambros Martin, was appointed the Romanian national team coach last week
Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs FC Midtjylland (DEN)
Saturday 15 October, 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
It was a heartbreaking last season for Györ, as the Hungarian powerhouse lost the trophy in front of their fans, with CSM Bucuresti taking an unexpected win after a seven-meter shootout.
Györ have been in the semi-final nine times in the last ten years and the Hungarian side is vying to erase the painful memory inflicted by the Romanian champions. “We have an excellent team and all the players are hungry for success”, said Anita Görbicz.
Their roster did not suffer a major reshuffling, with Aniko Kovacsics, Ida Alstad, Szimonetta Planeta and Linn Jørum Sulland trying their luck at different teams.
But in Nora Mørk, Györ will be looking for commanding shots, breathtaking acceleration and the sheer speed that they hope will leave opponents with no answer.
The Norwegian left back was the top scorer in the Olympic tournament and Györ will need her input during this season, especially with such a difficult group.
Recent history shows that the game against Midtjylland will be anything but a walk in the park for the hosts.
The two teams met in the group phase last season with Györ failing to win twice. The Danish side unearthed a gem in Hungary with a flawless defence that powered Midtjylland to a 26:21 win, while the second game ended in a stalemate, 22:22.
“They are undoubtedly cautious and furthermore, they appear even stronger than last year,” said FCM’s coach, Kristian Kristensen, in an interview for ehfcl.com.
“Of course, it is a bit annoying that we have ended up in this group, as we would probably have been sure to go on from any of the other three groups, but this is the way the draw has made it and it would be foolish of us to give up beforehand”.
The Danish side is likely to be without Stine Jörgensen, the Danish League’s best player in September, after the left back injured her ankle last week in an international game against Norway. Eliza Buceschi has been slowly regaining her fitness after a recurring Achilles problem but will feature on Saturday.
Both teams opened their week with wins in their respective national leagues. While Györ had no trouble against Bekescsaba, 33:16, Midtjylland came back against Aarhus to win 29:20, after Kristensen’s team trailed 12:10 at half-time.
CSM Bucuresti (ROU) vs Rostov-Don (RUS)
Sunday 16 October, 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
While CSM’s objective was clearly reaching the FINAL4 phase of the competition, not even the players and the staff could quite believe it when they managed to upset Györ in last year’s final.
Five months on and the Romanian powerhouse will start the defence of their title against the team that prompted their resurgence in the competition, Rostov-Don.
Two narrow wins in the quarter-final phase, 26:25 and 29:28, brought CSM closer to the title but, most importantly, gave the team the belief that anything was possible.
However, CSM has undergone a major reshuffle both in their roster and in their staff. Coach Kim Rasmussen has been replaced by Jakob Vestergaard, but the transition was not as smooth as expected. CSM has already suffered their first defeat of the season, 30:27, against Dunarea Braila on the 26th of September.
The bad news kept coming when Line Jörgensen suffered a torn ligament in her shoulder during Denmark’s game against Russia last week. The injury will rule her out for at least three months.
“I think the team is ready for the Champions League and I know we are all looking forward to fight for the trophy once again,” said Jörgensen to Romanian TV station DigiSport.
Losing Ana Paula Rodrigues (pictured above), Mayssa Pessoa, Fernanda Franca da Silva, Maria Fisker and Ekaterina Vetkova could possibly affect the team’s chemistry, but Jakob Vestergaard hopes that the new signings will perform at the highest level.
“The likes of Camille Ayglon, Gnonsiane Niombla, Anastasia Lobach, Majda Mehmedovic and Paula Ungureanu are amazing players. Now the team is not at 100%, we are building on this, but we need more time.
“We are doing the transition step by step and I can see improvements on a daily basis,” added Vestergaard.
However, CSM will have their work cut out as Rostov will be hungry for revenge. The Russian team - who lost the championship final against Astrakhanochka last season - has enjoyed a fruitful summer with several important recruitments.
Ana Paula Rodrigues will face her former teammates, while Olympic Games MVP, Anna Vyakhireva is poised to have a breakout season, four years after her maiden game in the Women’s EHF Champions League. Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa, Olga Chernoivanenko and Siraba Dembele will surely bring experience to an already star-studded team.