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17.03.2011, 17:36
Battling it out for the semi-finals
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Preview of all Main Round matches from Round 6 of the EHF Women's Champions League.

»EHF CL Channel »2010-11 Women's CL
»Main Round
»
 

Battling it out for the semi-finals

The last round of the Main Round stage will give a final opportunity for the bottom teams to collect some points so that they can say goodbye to this year’s EHF Champions League campaign in an upbeat fashion.

The four teams that have already progressed to the semi-finals will battle it out for the top positions in their respective groups. With this, the home advantage for the return leg will be decided.

The European Handball Federation pays tribute to the tragic situation in Japan. Therefore all four matches of the EHF Women’s Champions League as well as the eleven matches in the Women’s European Cup will start with a minute of silence for the people of Japan.

Group 1

RK Krim Ljubljana (SLO) vs. Oltchim Rm. Vâlcea (ROU)
Saturday 19 March 2011, 17:30 hrs (local time)

Both clubs lost decisive matches last weekend and their direct encounter will decide third place in the group.

While the Romanians clearly lost against Budućnost, Krim missed their chance in the dying minutes against Itxako, meaning that, just as in previous years, the Slovenians bid farewell to the EHF Champions League in the Top 8.

"It was a very big disappointment. We wanted to move a step forward and reach the semi-final stage this year. We were very close to reaching this goal, but it was not enough," said a disappointed Andrea Lekić.

Indeed, Krim failed to progress to the Top 4, but if one analyzes their whole season, one can admit that they were hampered by injuries to several key players, a fact that is also underlined by the playmaker: "It was a difficult task to complete our game play, because in our training sessions we always missed someone. With a rebuilt team and a new back line over the last few months, we didn’t have enough time to gel."

Krim will play their last EHF CL game in the Športni park Stožice before they start to focus on the last phase of the Women’s Regional Handball League: "As everything is already decided in our group, the last game won’t be of big interest to the fans, and for that, I feel very sorry for them," admitted Lekić.

"As we will play at home, it’s reason enough to pull ourselves together once again. It would be great to finish the EHF CL campaign with a victory," added the Serbian international.

For this final game, Marta Bon’s team will miss their 23-year-old right back Barbara Varlec, who will be out due to pregnancy.

As the coach won’t be extending her contract with the club, the game against Oltchim will be her last appearance in the EHF CL. Bon coached Krim for three years, and her contract ends this summer.

Krim’s opponent, Oltchim of Romania, are in deep crisis after the team was crushed by Budućnost, and their unexpected early exit from the EHF CL was a great disappointment to their fans.

During the current season, their performance never resembled that of last year when they marched to the final: "The players were mere shadows of themselves in this match. We played horribly during most of the game and allowed our opponent to walk all over us," analyzed coach Radu Voina.

Voina, who is the third coach of the team this season, harshly criticized the club’s management for the situation, and if they want him to remain in his position, he demands many changes: "We have several older players and we surely need to reduce the squad, as 23 players are far too many in a club."

"There will be long discussions about this, but without debates, we won’t move forward," added the coach.

Voina also surprised with his squad for the match in Ljubljana: with Steluța Luca, Valeria Beşe and Ada Nechita he leaves three key players at home, and brings on Melinda Geiger and Gabriella Szűcs as a replacement.

Budućnost Podgorica (MNE) vs. Itxako Reyno De Navarra (ESP)
Sunday 20 March 2011, 19:30 hrs (local time)

Itxako are two points ahead of Budućnost, so Dragan Adžić’s team will need a victory with a 5-goal difference (to give the better result in direct encounters) to finish first in the group.

Clinching this result is not beyond the Montenegrin champions, as they were vastly superior last weekend, when they topped their own performance of the season.

Katarina Bulatović and her team-mates demonstrated great power and fantastic handball on home soil, especially in the first half.

A packed Morača Sports Centre went mad of excitement when Budućnost scored at will to humiliate last year’s finalist, Oltchim. The reinforced Montenegrins reached the semi-final stage for the first time since season 2001/2002, celebrating the biggest success of the club in the EHF Champions League in the last 10 years.

Against Vâlcea everything clicked well: the defence stood perfectly, giving a great backing to goalkeeper Sanela Knezović. In offense, Budućnost’s strongest weapon, the back line, dominated once again.

In this weekend’s decisive clash it will be interesting to watch the strong back court of Budućnost facing the superb and unusually aggressive defence of Itxako, which has conceded the smallest number of goals in the group.

The Spaniards progressed to the Top 4 last weekend in a real thriller against Krim, and their coach, the great tactician Ambros Martín, was well-aware of why his side celebrated victory: "The key for the win was that we were able to control our emotions and all the stress during the game. We succeeded in stopping Krim’s fast game play and made them stay with positional attack."

Since Round 1 the Spanish champions have risen and improved from game to game, and to the surprise of many experts, they’re now on top of Group 1: "We never dreamed of or wished for success. It’s just the personal necessity for evolution to perform better every time, at each new game and from year to year," analyzed the coach.

Martín isn’t satisfied with the 8 points his team has gathered so far in the Main Round: “The final ranking isn’t important to us. We care more about winning games. Our intention is to beat Budućnost, but we know it will be very difficult. They have grown since the match in Estella and their supporters are fantastic."

"To play such an important game in front of a packed hall with their 5000 spectators gives us extra motivation and it will prepare our team for future competitions," Martín added.

This decisive game for group victory in Main Round Group 1 will be broadcast on a live web stream on ehfTV.com, the official Internet TV platform of the European Handball Federation that offers free live streaming as well as a video on demand service.

Group 2

HC Leipzig (GER) vs. Dinamo Volgograd (RUS)
Saturday 19 March 2011, 15:00 hrs (local time)

This game has less importance now as both teams bid farewell to their semi-final dreams rounds ago. The only question remains whether Leipzig will collect point(s) or whether they will finish without points in the EHF Champions League Main Round.

The power of Dinamo only lasted for about 10 minutes against Audi ETO in the previous round, as Győr were too strong and overcame the Russians in every aspect of the game.

Victor Ryabykh’s team clearly stated after the CL failure several weeks ago that they will concentrate on the Russian championship exclusively.

There, Dinamo are leading the table and have very good chances to repeat last year’s success by defending their title. This would allow them to participate, without the need of a further qualification tournament, in next year’s edition of Europe’s top competition.

Leipzig on the other hand are, just as in the previous season, without points in the Main Round, but Heine Jensen’s team hopes for success in the last round: "We lost the match in Volgograd. This time, in front of our spectators, we’d like to gain revenge," said Leipzig’s Anne Müller.

"We’d like to use this match to prepare for the play-offs and Final Four in our domestic league," added the line-player.

As the EHF Champions League campaign is on paper already over for the German champions, Müller analyzed this year’s performance of her side: "We played several good games this season, especially against Larvik at home. There, only some little 'extra' was missing for a surprise. In the Main Round we missed our long range shooter Anne Ulbricht."

"If we aim to be on a level with the top teams, we will have to give 100% without any mistakes. If we don’t perform on top, we can lose by 10 goals, like we did in Larvik," she continued.

Despite little real importance being attached to this weekend’s match, Leipzig wish to repay Dinamo for the loss in Russia and the 27-year-old line-player knows the recipe for success: "We have to improve our attacking game play and avoid easy technical mistakes. If we continue defending as in previous matches, Volgograd might struggle and we can use our quick counter attacks to score."


Audi ETO Győr (HUN) vs. Larvik HK (NOR)
Sunday 20 March 2011, 18:15 hrs (local time)

Larvik arrive in Hungary with several National Team players within their squad. Will they take revenge for the 'shock defeat' at home, or will the dominance of the Hungarian powerhouse continue?

On Wednesday, Larvik became Norwegian champions for the 13th time, when Tor Odvar Moen’s team defeated domestic counterpart Storhamar in match ladened with goals that ended 37:32. But instead of big celebrations, the main focus was put on the return match in Hungary and on the upcoming semi-final matches in April.

With a 10-goal defeat at home in the first leg, and knowing of Győr’s home dominance, it will be very tough to win with such high margin in the away match for the Norwegians. However, for superstar Gro Hammerseng, the goal difference isn’t of main importance in the return leg: "We would like to perform our best and see at the end where it takes us."

"We’d like to finish in first position in the group and win our last match, mostly because we will play at home. In front of our spectators we have to win," countered Győr’s young Anikó Kovacsics.

So far, the Hungarians marched through their opponents in a very impressive manner, and their clear victories were the fruits of their hard work: "In our last games we gained much self confidence and we look very stable in defence. Also, we have such a superb goalkeeping duo," added Kovacsics.

The young playmaker replaced world class Anita Görbicz when she was out with injury, and since Görbicz’s return, Kovacsics is often brought into the game in different positions as 'jolly joker': "As playmaker you have to play well at every back court position, and I don't even mind if the coach if he puts me on the wing," the 19-year-old continued.

The Norwegians will meet a tough opponent on Sunday that will surely gather extra motivation from their fantastic supporters. Larvik coach Moen admits that "it will be very hard to win in Hungary." The coach was pleased with his team’s performance in the previous round against Leipzig, when Larvik conceded only 19 goals in total during the 60 minutes.

Moen knows that a tougher opponent will await his team in Sunday’s clash and the coach has learned a lot from the defeat against Győr: "It was a wake-up call for us because that kind of physical play and intensity that the Hungarians put up against us is what the rest of the EHF Champions League will be about."

Young Anikó Kovacsics confirms her side’s top physical shape: "We train hard throughout the year to have top condition for such important clashes. We will have the energy for the last phase of the EHF CL. We’re professionals and I can assure everyone that we won’t get tired mentally either."

This decisive game for group victory in Main Round Group 2 will be broadcast on a live web stream on ehfTV.com, the official Internet TV platform of the European Handball Federation that offers free live streaming as well as a video on demand service.


TEXT: Márk Hegedüs
 
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