GROUP B PREVIEW: The Macedonian side look to earn their first victory in the group against HC Leipzig following the dismissal of the head coach Indira Kastratovic, while the Russian champions are hoping for a positive surprise in Budapest
Tough test for Astrakhanochka and turbulent period at Vardar
Round 1 in the EHF Champions League offered tight and exciting games, with the outcomes staying uncertain right up until the final whistle.
Both HC Vardar and HC Leipzig did not live up to expectations, and now in Skopje they will both try and undo their poor performances.
Vardar will do it without head coach Indira Kastratovic who was let go following the unconvincing draw against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria.
On the contrary, Astrakhanochka started their maiden campaign with a win and topped the group with two points. The next target for the Russian champion is to grab some points in a tough battle against FTC in Budapest.
• The debutant Astrakhanochka lead the group after a win against HC Leipzig
• HC Vardar is still one win shy of 30, HC Leipzig one win shy of 20 wins in the continental top flight
• Following the home draw with FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, Vardar dismissed their head coach Indira Kastratovic
• Andrea Penezic from Vardar is the group's top scorer with nine goals
HC Vardar (MKD) vs HC Leipzig (GER)
Friday, 21 October, 20:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
The 27:27 home draw against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria was actually a lucky result for Vardar as the guests from Budapest had a good chance to clinch the victory right at the end.
Unhappy with such a mediocre start, the club management decided to part company with the head coach Indira Kastratovic who had been at the club since 2012.
Now the hot seat is empty - the sports director Eduard Koksharov is looking for a new tactician, and the assistant coach Ace Stankovski will act as a caretaker-coach preparing the team for the game against Leipzig.
"Our girls will make every effort to get the first victory this season. We have enough quality to do it, but we should not think that Leipzig are a weak team,” Ace Stankovski said at the pre-match press conference.
However, not all Vardar players are currently fit. Andrea Klikovac suffers from an eye infection, which makes her unavailable for the upcoming clash, and Barbara Lazovic and Tamara Mavsar both have stomach viruses.
Unlike Vardar who play the first two games in the group matches at home, HC Leipzig have not yet had a chance to appear before their fans.
After a long and unsuccessful trip to Astrakhan, they are looking forward to another away game, this time in Skopje.
And it definitely will not be any easier, especially given the absence of the back court players Saskia Lang and Franziska Mietzner who are still injured.
"We must show 120 per cent of our game," says the club manager Kay-Sven Hähner.
FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN) vs Astrakhanochka (RUS)
Sunday, 23 October, 15:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
The point taken in Skopje was quite a satisfying result for FTC, and it should boost the team's morale and confidence before their clash with Astrakhanochka in Round 2.
"It was very important to prove that we were capable to put on such performance as we did in Skopje. And if we did this, why can’t we achieve something else," the centre back Zita Szucsanszki told the official club website after that match.
A few days later, FTC pleased their fans once more by earning a victory in the Hungarian league against Mosonmagyarovari KS SE, 31:19.
Astrakhanochka also left a positive impression at the start of their maiden EHF Champions League campaign.
Beating Leipzig at home was certainly not an easy job, but the team coached by Mikhail Seregin deserved to earn two points.
However, in Round 2 the Russian side faces a bigger challenge as they play their first ever away game in Europe.
"The Champions League is a great experience for our young team. I don't know if our chances to advance to the Main Round are better after the win against Leipzig. The whole fight is still ahead, and now we are preparing for the game in Budapest," said Astrakhanochka's head coach Mikhail Seregin.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / bc