|10.02.2017, 15:00||◄ last page|
GROUP 1 PREVIEW: All eyes will be on Podgorica as third-ranked Buducnost prepare to face FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, who are undefeated in the main round.
Buducnost and FTC clash in Podgorica
The Women’s EHF Champions League Main Round is reaching crunch time with only three rounds left to decide the quarter-finalists.
While Group 1 leaders HC Vardar are seen as strong favourites against Thüringer HC, and Metz Handall should beat Astrakhanochka on paper, the game between third-ranked Buducnost and FTC in second is expected to be tight and entertaining.
• If Vardar win against THC, they will be extend their winning run to eight in the EHF Champions League
• Astrakhanochka's Karina Sabirova is top scorer of the competition with 58 goals
• Vardar’s Anja Althaus will face her former team THC
• Metz have suffered three straight defeats in the tournament
The start of the main round was unlucky for Metz as the French champions suffered two defeats in a row – though they certainly had opportunities to take points against both FTC and Vardar.
In Skopje in particular, Metz's defence did a good job against Vardar's powerful attack, conceding just 23 goals. However, even that solid performance was not enough to avoid another loss, and coach Emmanuel Mayonnade’s team are still on four points.
Fourth-ranked Metz are expecting a hard fight for a quarter-final spot, so it is essential now to take maximum points against the group outsider Astrakhanochka.
Metz’s mission seems possible as the Russian side continue to struggle in the European top flight. In the main round, they have been defeated twice with almost identical scores – 22:34 at Thüringer and 21:34 at home against Buducnost.
Yet every cloud has a silver lining, and Astrakhanochka take pride in having the top EHF Champions League scorer in their roster. Following her seven goals against Buducnost, Karina Sabirova has 58 goals in the tournament.
But even the impact of Sabirova could not prevent Astrakhanochka from losing seven straight matches in the Champions League. In Metz, they are therefore doomed to be considered underdogs.
Thüringer HC (GER) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Fifth-ranked THC desperately need points to climb up in the table, but it is hard for the German side to be on par with European powerhouses. In the previous round, they had some good spells in the match against FTC, but were ultimately defeated by eight goals.
After losing by 10 to SG BBM Bietigheim in the Bundesliga on Wednesday, THC prepare to face another leader – and realise it will be a tough challenge.
“Together with Györ, Vardar have one of the strongest squads in the world. It looks like the ‘who is who’ of women’s handball and theoretically we cannot reach their level, but we can learn a lot from such games,” Herbert Müller said at the pre-match press-conference.
Vardar seem to have found their rhythm under head coach David Davis, and they remain the only undefeated team in the current edition of the Champions League.
The game in Nordhausen will be special for German international Anja Althaus, as the 34-year-old line player spent two seasons with THC before moving to Vardar in 2014.
Buducnost (MNE) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Buducnost and FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria have met seven times in European cup competitions, and the balance is level as each side won three times with one draw.
Their paths last crossed in the group phase of EHF Champions League 2013/14, where home victories were exchanged. Now their two upcoming main round clashes may be crucial for determining the group runners-up – or maybe even the winners.
At the start of the current phase of the competition, Buducnost were second and had one point more than their Hungarian rivals, but now the situation is totally reverse.
FTC stand out with a perfect record in the main round as they have beaten Metz and THC, while Buducnost dropped two points in Skopje before clearly defeating Astrakhanochka.
The Montenegrin heavyweights are fighting injuries, and their squad is expected to be weakened again for this important game. Suzana Lazovic and Djurdjina Malovic are still not fully fit, let alone captain Milena Raicevic, who is sidelined for a long time.
However, Biljana Novovic seems to be better prepared for the upcoming match after travelling with the team to Astrakhan but not playing out of precaution.
FTC’s morale has been boosted by their return to renovated Elek Gyula Arena in Budapest, where they beat THC last Saturday.
Yet the Hungarian side expect a much tougher test in Podgorica:
“Definitely the match against Buducnost will be quite different, as they are much more powerful than THC. In addition, it is extremely tough to win in Podgorica, which I recall from our game in 2013,” left wing Adrienn Szarka told the club’s official website.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cg