|27.01.2017, 16:00||◄ last page|
GROUP 1 PREVIEW: The opening match day of Group 1 in the women’s European top flight features the battle of two favourites, Buducnost and HC Vardar
EHF Champions League heavyweights clash in Podgorica
Following a two-month break, the Women’s EHF Champions League is back an action with the beginning of the main round.
In Group 1, the focus will be on Montenegrin capital Podgorica where heavyweights Buducnost and HC Vardar face on Sunday.
Metz Handball (FRA) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
The French champions enter the main round with four points they carry over from the group matches. In Group A, Metz were not always consistent but sprung a surprise when they beat 2015 EHF Champions League winners Buducnost at home.
Furthermore, the team stood out with its excellent defence and conceded just 133 goals in six matches – the best result among all participants of the competition.
Metz do not plan to rest on their laurels and now aim to advance to the quarter-finals – a feat they never accomplished before. In this light, the upcoming home encounter against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria may become one of the key games as the Hungarian outfit are one of their main rivals.
FTC have just one point more than Metz on their account. The Budapest team proved their competitive skills at the very beginning of the group phase when they drew 27:27 with HC Vardar in Skopje. And besides a home loss to Vardar, the team of Gabor Elek did not drop any further points.
Hence FTC are still undefeated away from home during this European season, and Metz should bear it in mind.
Thüringer HC (GER) vs Astrakhanochka (RUS)
The German side qualified for the EHF Champions League Main Round for their fourth consecutive season. Two years ago they made it to the quarter-final, but last season they claimed just one point in the group and finished last.
Compared to that unfortunate result, THC have already made a step forward as they enter the main round with two points snatched against Metz in the group matches.
Now they are seen as underdogs, yet the six-time German champions, who currently occupy second place in the Bundesliga, hope to surprise.
A home win against Astrakhanochka is a must for THC if they plan to fight for a quarter-final spot. For the Russian champions, reaching the main round in their maiden EHF Champions League campaign is already a milestone.
Their young players gained priceless international experience and some of them caught the attention – the best example is 18-year-old Karina Sabirova who currently is the competition’s second best scorer with 42 goals.
"Each player dreams about playing in the Champions League, so we are ready to fight every opponent. THC are a good and strong team which is physically well prepared and tries to play actively. But we are ready to show our best in every game," says Astrakhanochka's head coach Mikhail Seregin on the club website.
Buducnost (MNE) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
The paths of these two Balkan sides have regularly crossed in the continental top flight during recent seasons.
Two years ago, Buducnost comfortably beat Vardar in the semi-final (28:18) and went on to win the trophy.
Last season, the teams exchanged victories in the main round and again both qualified for the Women’s EHF FINAL4 in Budapest where the Macedonian outfit defeated their Montenegrin rivals in the third place game 30:28.
But the EHF Champions League is not the only place where Buducnost and Vardar face each other. Just two weeks ago a match between the two took place in the opening round of the newly established Regional League and Buducnost won in a tight battle, 30:29.
However, Buducnost head coach Dragan Adzic is sure that the showdown on Sunday will be a bigger challenge.
"Vardar are a great team. They are undefeated in the Champions League. We know that it will be harder when we play each other at the start of the main round. We need to play better in defence if we want a positive result," he told the club’s official website.
For the main round, Buducnost will have to do without captain Milena Raicevic who had an operation on her heel in December and is sidelined for three months.
On Vardar’s side head coach David Davis can count on all players except for Russian goalkeeper Inna Suslina who is still recovering from a meniscus injury.
Buducnost took six points into the main round from the group matches, while Vardar top Group 1 at the start with seven points.
The Skopje side are the only undefeated team in the whole competition and obviously they want to continue in the same way.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / ts