|27.01.2017, 14:00||◄ last page|
GROUP 2 PREVIEW: An all-Danish duel highlights the return of the Women’s EHF Champions League, while title holders CSM Bucuresti are looking to get back on track
No room for error as the main round begins
After a two-month break in which Europe's top national team players gave it their all at the EHF EURO 2016, the Women’s EHF Champions League returns with a star-studded line-up.
The Danish fans are in for a treat when Midtjylland host Esbjerg in an all-Danish battle on Sunday, while the biggest surprise of the season, Krim, will visit Györ in the game between the leaders of the group on Saturday.
Top goal scorer Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth Koren will have a chance to strengthen her position against CSM Bucuresti on Friday. The title holders from Romania are in dire need of a win, starting the group on the last position.
CSM Bucuresti (ROU) vs Larvik HK (NOR)
The surprise package of last season will try to apply the same successful recipe for 2017. A slow start, a coaching change and several heavy defeats were what CSM went through en route to winning the Women’s EHF Champions League and they are in the same situation today.
Losses against Györ and Midtjylland left CSM in turmoil, as the title holders are rock bottom in the group, with only two points.
That makes the game against Larvik even more interesting and important for the Romanian powerhouse, who need to sweep the group if they are to become the team to watch in the business end of the competition.
CSM had a full week to prepare for the game against the Norwegian champions after comfortably beating against HC Zalau 30:18 last Saturday in the Romanian League.
“I think our dynamic is improving on a game-to-game basis. We are better in offence and I see more focus from my players.
“I really believe that we will approach the game against Larvik on a positive note and will earn our first two points,” said CSM’s coach Aurelian Rosca.
The Romanian side made a welcome addition on the right wing, as Cristina Varzaru suffered a season-ending knee injury in November. Simone Böhme, Viborg’s former right wing, signed a week ago for CSM and scored three goals in the game against Zalau.
“I'm very happy to be here and I will do my best to help the team win their second Women’s EHF Champions League trophy in a row,” said Böhme.
On the other hand, Larvik will be fresh off a commanding 39:22 win against Oppsal in the Norwegian League, with Amanda Kurtovic scoring a career-high 19 goals.
The Norwegian side could boost their qualifying chances with a win in Bucuresti, as they hope to continue their away form which brought two wins in the group matches, against Savehof and Esbjerg.
Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs RK Krim Mercator (SLO)
It looked like Györ would be the only team to win all six group matches, until the Hungarian suffered a dip in form against Midtjylland, losing by a four-goal margin, 27:23.
However, Ambros Martin’s team still lead the rankings before the main round throws off and they look set to advance to the business end of the competition for the 11th year in a row.
Losing star line player Heidi Løke due to pregnancy was a huge blow, but Györ recovered on the spot and signed Asma Elghaoui, the 25-year old Tunisian who had a stint with Dinamo Volgograd two seasons ago.
Eyeing the top spot, Györ cannot make mistakes, as the two top teams in the group face off in the first game.
Krim have been the surprise package of the season, after opening their season in the qualification tournament.
Four wins later, the Slovenian side is now trying to get back into the mix, after three consecutive disappointing seasons.
“We are getting better and better and we hope to show that both in the Slovenian championship and in the Women’s EHF Champions League,” said newcomer Nina Zulic, a 22-year-old centre back, who joined Krim this January.
The Slovenian side will continue to rely on emerging star Elizabeth Omoregie, who scored 34 goals this season.
But Györ will also deploy their state of the art defence, who conceded only 147 goals in their first six games of the competition.
Løke’s absence will surely be felt in the attack, which produced the second best record of the competition with 174 goals scored, but the likes of Nora Mørk and Eduarda Amorim will again have their chance to impress.
FC Midtjylland (DEN) vs Team Esbjerg (DEN)
A strong home-court stand was the only chance for FC Midtjylland in a loaded group, against Györ, CSM Bucuresti and Rostov.
Surprisingly, the Danish side were flawless in their three home matches and are now in with a fighting chance for a unexpected quarter-final berth.
Kristian Kristensen’s team is expected to continue sweeping their home matches, with the first chance on Sunday, as the Danish fans will be treated to a dream scenario: Midtjylland will host Esbjerg in a repeat of last year’s Danish championship final.
It was a 37:37 draw after 120 minutes, before Esbjerg took the title in a dramatic penalty shootout.
Several months later, Midtjylland hold all the cards, as the runners-up from last season are dominating the domestic league and have a two-point advantage over Esbjerg before the start of the main round.
The hosts lost playmaker Eliza Buceschi to Dunarea Braila and left wing Fie Woller to SSG BM Bietigheim, but started 2017 with three impressive wins in the Danish League.
Midtjylland’s odds for winning the Danish derby will be boosted by Esbjerg’s roster problems. Estavana Polman, one of the most important offensive weapons for the Danish champions, ended her season early by announcing she was pregnant shortly after reaching the EHF EURO 2016 final with the Netherlands.
Both teams enjoyed important wins during midweek in the Danish league, with FCM battling it out with second-placed Viborg until the last second, 26:25, while Esbjerg got past 10th-placed Aarhus, 27:22.
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cor