Coaches agree: This group is stronger than expected
Only a week ago, not many people would have expected Group D of the Women’s EHF Champions League to be as clear as it is ahead of the last match day.
After four rounds, all four teams were on four points, and there was every risk – or chance if you like – that all the teams would end on six points.
But last weekend cleared the situation up.
With six points, Larvik and RK Krim Mercator are sure to proceed to the main round, and their meeting in Norway on Saturday evening is entirely about taking points to the main round.
On Sunday afternoon, Team Esbjerg and IK Sävehof, both on four points, will decide the last main round ticket between them in the group’s final Scandinavian derby.
As Esbjerg won 25:20 in their first-leg match in Sweden, the Danish champions can do with a draw, while Sävehof will need a win.
Considering the close nature of the group, the coaches of both Sävehof and Esbjerg are impressed by the level.
“The group has turned out to be stronger than I expected,” says Sävehof coach Henrik Signell.
“Ahead of the tournament, I expected Larvik to win the group. Now, this seems to be the case, but the level in the group in general has been stronger than expected.
“Krim have become really strong after a weak start, Larvik have improved along the way, and Esbjerg have also impressed me.”
Esbjerg coach Lars Frederiksen agrees.
“The group has become stronger and more equal than I expected, mainly because Krim have shown such great strength, especially at home, while Larvik have improved after a slow start as they have some of their injured players back,” says Frederiksen.
Both coaches denying crisis
The reason Esbjerg and Sävehof have to fight for their main round berths on the last group phase match day is that both teams slowed down after a fine start to the season.
Esbjerg opened their first Champions League campaign in history with two wins, but lost their last three matches, while Sävehof started with a 25:22 away victory against Larvik and have only won one of their four matches since then.
Last week, Sävehof even suffered a seldom and sensational defeat in the Swedish league, as they lost the away match against seventh-place Västerås 22:25.
That defeat was followed by a 32:38 home loss against Larvik in the EHF Champions League on Sunday.
Still, the Swedish side’s head coach says his team is not suffering through any kind of crisis period.
“There is no crisis here. We did not play particularly well against Västerås, while on the other hand they played very well.
“Such things do happen once in a while. Against Larvik, we were simply up against a team who have improved a lot since we defeated them,” says Signell.
Esbjerg have lost three group matches in a row, but coach Frederiksen remains confident.
“Both Larvik and Krim have improved after a slow start. What we will need against Sävehof is to get back to the same way of playing with which we defeated them away. We were very strong and focused in that match, and we need to be so again Sunday.
“Reaching the main round in our first Champions League campaign ever has been our great dream all the way, and therefore, we will be 100 per cent motivated to take a win on Sunday and make our main round berth,” says Frederiksen.
If Sävehof fail to win in Esbjerg, it will be the first time in four years that the Swedish record champions do not reach the main round.
“Of course, it will be a huge disappointment to us if we fail to reach the main round. We feel that we are the team that could do really well in the main round, so it would obviously be a big disappointment if we fail.
“However, I think we have what it takes to win in Esbjerg, although it will be tough,” says Signell.
Larvik still looking to Esbjerg
Even though Larvik and Krim are both through to the main round, at least one of the teams will be looking towards Esbjerg on Sunday.
As Larvik won both matches against Esbjerg, while against Sävehof they have a win and a defeat, a victory or draw for Esbjerg will mean Larvik take two more points with them to the main round than if Sävehof win
As Krim have a win and a defeat against both Esbjerg and Sävehof, the Scandinavian derby will have no importance to the Slovenian side.