GROUP B PREVIEW: The outsider HC Leipzig look to earn their first points against Astrakhanochka, while the leaders FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria and HC Vardar will face each other in Budapest
Big guns clash in Budapest; Leipzig hope to rise from the bottom
Round 5 in Group B should offer plenty of excitement as the top two, Vardar and FTC, clash with the ambition of taking as many points as they can into the main round.
HC Vardar and FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria are already through to the main round with seven points after four games
HC Leipzig, currently with no points, and Astrakhanochka (two points) will fight for third spot to the main round
Leipzig are still one shy of their 20th win in the European top flight
HC Leipzig (GER) vs Astrakhanochka (RUS)
Sunday, 13 November, 14:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
So far, Leipzig's EHF Champions League campaign has been a disaster. Having lost three away games, they could not benefit from the return to their home court as FTC were too strong for the German side last Sunday.
Despite all adversity, they retain a chance to finish third in Group B and to advance to the Main Round. To achieve it, Leipzig certainly need to take revenge on Astrakhanochka for a bitter defeat in Russia in the opening round.
However, Norman Rentsch does not have his strongest squad available as Michelle Urbicht, Franziska Mietzner and Tamara Bösch are still injured, and the captain Karolina Kudlacz-Gloc, who played last week against FTC, has some health issues again.
Without this quartet, Leipzig split the points with Borussia Dortmund in the German league (22:22), even though they led by five goals during the match.
For the Russian champions, nothing is certain either. After the memorable victory over Leipzig, they could not grab a single point in the group. The defeat in Skopje (39:25) last week became Astrakhanochka's biggest loss so far.
But in case they win in Leipzig, they will secure a spot in the Main Round one match before the group matches ends.
On Wednesday, Mikhail Seregin's team boosted their morale by beating Luch Moscow 31:26 in the Russian league. Now they have 14 points after eight games and share the top place with Rostov-Don and Lada Togliatti.
FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Sunday, 13 November, 15:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
The first meeting of the Group B favourites took place on the opening day of the group matches, and then Vardar and FTC split points in a thrilling match in Skopje.
Vardar's bosses were so dissatisfied with that performance that shortly afterwards they decided to part company with the head coach Indira Kastratovic.
After that, the Macedonian champions improved their game and earned three straight victories, the first two with Aco Stankovski as caretaker coach, and then with David Davis as a new full-time coach.
That helped Vardar to secure a place in the Main Round two ties before the end of the group matches.
Similar to the Macedonian team, FTC after the opening draw went on to win three matches, so now they are through to the main round as well.
Yet the Sunday clash is important for both teams as the points will be carried over to the next round.
On Wednesday, the Hungarian runners-up played a domestic league game against Siofok KC and clearly won 37:27. The match took place in Budapest on Elek Gyula Arena, which was opened after six months of renovation.
"I am happy that we finally play at home, and that I was able to contribute so much to the team’s success. But now we will get ready for the game with Vardar," Nadine Schatzl, who scored ten times against Siofok, told the FTC’s official website.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / bc