|23.02.2017, 17:10||◄ last page|
GROUP 2 PREVIEW: Larvik and CSM are fighting for a better spot to finish the group, while Györ and Midtjylland could edge closer to the quarter-finals.
Györ eye first quarter-final berth in Group 2
There is a lot at stake for all when Larvik meet CSM on Saturday, with both teams vying for a better place at the end of the group.
Györ could be the first team of the group to secure a quarter-final berth if they stay undefeated against Krim, which have not beaten the Hungarian side in 13 attempts.
Elsewhere, the Danish derby between Team Esbjerg and FC Midtjylland features a home team fighting for their lives, and an away team having won all four mutual games this season.
Larvik (NOR) vs CSM Bucuresti (ROU)
"The game against Larvik will be our biggest test in the competition up until the main round and a loss is just not acceptable by our standards."
Aurelian Rosca's crystal-clear analysis after the win against Esbjerg two weeks ago were a statement of intent. The CSM coach knows that any misstep could be a costly one and eliminate the title holders from the competition way before the business end of the Women's EHF Champions League.
The Romanian side are currently fourth in the group, with seven points, one less than Larvik and FCM, and only one above Krim.
But Larvik are no pushovers, even when the Norwegian side started the competition as an outsider after losing Nora Mørk.
The hosts earned impressive draws in Bucharest and against Györ, but won two matches and lost two this season on home court.
Surprising losses against Sävehof and Krim were avenged by wins against Esbjerg (30:29) and Midtjylland (24:22), but the Norwegian champions were far from convincing in both of their home wins.
Larvik will rely again on Amanda Kurtovic, the in-form right back, who scored 26 goals in the last three games, earning almost single-handedly four points for her team.
However, CSM will be buoyed by a never-ending series of good news. The Romanian side announced a major coup on Monday after signing superstar Cristina Neagu for the next two seasons.
But the good news did not stop here, as Gnonsiane Niombla, Jelena Grubisic, Camille Ayglon and Line Jörgensen all decided to stay at CSM for at least another year.
While Jörgensen and Cristina Varzaru are still injured, CSM will build on Paula Ungureanu and Ayglon, who recovered from knee and shoulder injuries to help CSM Universitatea Alexandrion Cluj 34:22 in the Romanian League on Monday.
On the other side, Larvik defeated Raelingen 25:16 this week to keep cruising to another national title.
RK Krim Mercator (SLO) vs Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN)
While Györ remain the top candidate for the first place at the end of the main round, the Hungarian team have surely shown their limits in the game against Larvik.
Györ came away with one point but are still on the top of the group, with a three-point advantage over FCM and Larvik.
Györ will become the first team in the group to clinch a quarter-final berth with at least a draw against Krim on Saturday.
Krim are struggling to cope without their Bulgarian rising star, Elizabeth Omoregie. They lost all three games in the main round by an average of 9.6 goals.
The Slovenian side are on a descending path right now and the game against hungry Györ is looking to do them no good.
In their first meeting this season, Györ handed Krim their second-worst loss in the Women’s EHF Champions League. The 39:22 drubbing remained just two goals short of Krim’s record 39:20 defeat to Buducnost in 2015.
The history is against the Slovenian side, too. Györ won 10 of their 13 duels, with the other three ending in a draw.
So Krim need to rewrite history on Saturday if they are to stay in the running for the quarter-finals.
Team Esbjerg (DEN) vs FC Midtjylland (DEN)
Esbjerg's chances to progress to the next phase are out of their own hands. The Danish champions need to win all of their remaining three games, but need Krim to win only against CSM Bucuresti, and the Romanian team to lose all their games.
That unlikely scenario makes it almost like mission impossible for the Danish side in their maiden season in the European top competition. A plethora of injuries has left the team depleted, though have the potential to upset as underdogs.
But this is still a local derby and the pain of losing the championship last season after an emotional penalty shootout has never disappeared from FCM's thoughts.
Therefore, it was no surprise that Kristian Kristensen’s side won all four games against Esbjerg so far this season, and by an average margin of 6.25 goals per game. Their latest victory came as recent as last Wednesday, when they defeated Esbjerg 27:25 in the Danish League.
"We are hoping we will build a momentum on Sunday and win on our home court," Esbjerg right wing Maibritt Kviesgaard said.
Sunday's game is, however, more important for FCM than any other this season as this could be the make-or-break one for the Danish side.
"We had a lot of technical errors in the last game but I hope we will be able to correct them, like we did in the second half against Esbjerg," FCM coach Kristian Kristensen said.
"I think it will come down to who is better prepared mentally, because they will want to win at least one game against us. But we have to win if we want to have a chance in the battle for the FINAL4 berth," Kristensen added.
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / ew