|24.02.2017, 19:54||◄ last page|
GROUP 1 PREVIEW: The Balcan heavyweights HC Vardar and Buducnost will clash for the second time in the current EHF Champions League season, this time in Skopje.
Buducnost looking for revenge and redemption
With three rounds to go in the Women’s EHF Champions League Main Round, two quarter-finalists from Group 1 have already been named. HC Vardar and FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria have dropped very few points in the current competition stage, and this good run helped both teams to go through. Other teams are still in the fight for qualification, and the games this weekend may give us a better idea as to who will progress.
FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN) vs Metz Handball (FRA)
In recent weeks, FTC have definitely gained momentum. The Hungarian side won all three games in the Main Round and secured their spot in the quarter-final. In these matches, FTC looked like a balanced team- they did well in both attack and defense. Further, the goalkeepers, notably Blanka Biro, made a number of important saves.
Now FTC are facing some tough matches as they play Metz on Saturday, and then Györ in their domestic league on Wednesday. In January, they managed to beat Metz in France (28:25). However, FTC's coach Gabor Elek expects a tough battle.
"We will have a terribly difficult job. Although we won in France, Metz have somewhat changed their playing style since that game, and they are very strong in defense, so we need to be fully focused," he told the club's official website.
Indeed, Metz boast one of the defensive records of all the Main Round participants. They are particularly strong at home. But notably, FTC are the only side in the current EHF Champions League season that managed to seize victory in Metz.
Two weeks ago, Metz also impressed in attack. Their 37:18 win over Astrakhanochka became their biggest victory in the European top flight competition. FTC are tougher opponents, but the French side hope to upset the Hungarian favourites and take another step towards the quarter-final.
Astrakhanochka (RUS) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
The Russian champions continue to struggle in the EHF Champions League- they have lost eight successive matches in the competition. In the three Main Round games, Astrakhanochka were not even close to getting any points. Two weeks ago in Metz they suffered their biggest defeat so far in the European top flight competition (18:37).
With no chance to advance to the next round, the remaining games are just a matter of honour. On paper, the home encounter with the fifth-placed THC looks like Astrakhanochka's best opportunity to finally get some points. Nevertheless, it will be tough, as the German champions are more experienced.
In their opening Main Round game at home, THC smashed Astrakhanochka by 12 goals (34:22), and two weeks ago fought extremely hard against the strong favourites HC Vardar, ultimately losing in the end (29:31).
Thüringer are highly motivated to win in Astrakhan, as they are two points behind Metz who are in fourth place. They desperately need points in order to squeeze into the next round.
Interestingly, THC's left wing Manon Houette will play for Metz next season- she has already signed a contract. But now she and her teammates will do their best to pass the French side in Group 1 table.
HC Vardar (MKD) vs Buducnost (MNE)
Both Balkan powerhouses won their respective groups in the previous phase of the competition. Therefore, it was to be expected that they would fight hard for the top position in Group 1.
However, Vardar and Buducnost are currently separated by five points. The Macedonian side’s winning streak separated them from the rest of the group, and allowed them to easily qualify for the next round. Vardar's results are impressively consistent, and now they hope to beat their Montenegrin rivals once again- just like they did in January in Podgorica (31:28).
“We had euphoria after beating them away, but now we must stay calm as we know who we are playing against. After a home defeat, Buducnost will be very motivated to take revenge. Yet we are prepared, and we know how to respond to their strong back court shooting and solid defence,” Vardar’s right back Andrea Klikovac told the club’s official website.
Unlike the Macedonian outfit, Buducnost look somewhat vulnerable in the Main Round. The Podgorica-based side are yet to win points at home in the current competition stage. They lost to both Vardar and FTC on their home-court, and slipped to third place in Group 1.
Of course, they are highly unlikely to miss the quarter-final stage. However, the epidemic of injuries seems to have taken its toll, as Buducnost came up short against the principal group rivals. This was particularly visible in their last game in Budapest, where the Montenegrin team were brushed aside by FTC (33:25).
Now Buducnost are determined to redeem themselves and to fight for a higher position in the standing. The game in Skopje is therefore expected to be close and exciting.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev/kc