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30.03.2012, 00:30
The remaining four are ready to battle
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Preview of the two semi-final matches of the EHF Women's Champions League.
 

The remaining four are ready to battle

April brings important decisions in the fight to establish which two teams will be the participants in the EHF Women’s Champions League final. Over the next two weekends, the four semi-final participants, Larvik HK (NOR), Budućnost Podgorica (MNE), Oltchim Rm. Vâlcea (ROU) and Győri Audi ETO (HUN) will battle it out as they seek to become this season’s finalists.

This weekend the first-leg matches will be played, with the teams finishing second in the Main Round playing at home.

Both semi-final matches of the EHF Women’s Champions League will be broadcast as a free-of-charge live web stream on ehfTV.com, which is the official Internet TV platform of the European Handball Federation, offering free live streaming as well as a video on-demand service.

For regional TV listings of all the EHF Women's Champions League matches click HERE.


Larvik (NOR) vs. Budućnost (MNE)
Saturday 31 March, 16:45 hrs (local time)


The two clubs will meet for the second consecutive time in the semi-final of the EHF Women's Champions League. For the away side, Budućnost, it will be their eighth attempt to reach a final.

From 1996 to 2002 the Montenegrins played six semi-finals in a row but had no luck. They came closest to a place in the final in season 1998-99 against Krim Ljubljana, when they were eliminated from the competition only by the away goals rule.

Their seventh attempt took place last season against Larvik, and now coach Dragan Adžić´s team is facing the title-holder again in a fierce battle, with the hope of advancing to the final for the first time in the club´s history.

The chances are good, as Budućnost strengthened its squad since last year. With the addition of goalkeeper Clara Woltering, who is providing splendid performances between the posts, the Montenegrins have a strong backing to their defensive line.

The small city Larvik of around 43,000 inhabitants is home to one of the top ranked clubs in women´s handball, Larvik HK.

However, Larvik isn't the smallest city to boast a top women´s club. The Danish city of Slagelse (home of former EHF Champions League winners Slagelse DT) has a smaller population of around 32,000 inhabitants.

Larvik have struggled to reach the semi-final stage with some hot clashes in their Main Round. Being under pressure in crucial matches, the Norwegians were forced to pull-out quality performances, and so far they have succeeded.

With a reduced squad due to injuries and players on maternity leave, coach Ole Gustav Gjekstad is not able to count on top players like Gro Hammerseng, Tine Stange, Sara Breistol and Katja Nyberg in the semi-final.

The latest news from Larvik headquarters reports that Nora Mørk and Olga Medvedeva are returning and may be in the squad for the game against the Montenegrins.

This season Budućnost have played an extraordinary set of games and seemed almost invincible as they marched through their opponents. 

In the Preliminary Phase they only lost one match, that being against FC Midtjylland. That game was irrelevant for Budućnost, due to having already secured Main Round qualification, but they were quite shocked to lose 34:20 in the final round of the first stage.

In the Main Round, the team impressively won all of its six games against Oltchim Rm. Vâlcea, Krim and Metz, the most convincing result being the away match against Oltchim, where the Montenegrins celebrated a 34:24 victory.

The Budućnost squad is comprised of many high quality profiles, among them, the greatest being Bojana Popović who has won five CL titles with her former clubs Slagelse and Viborg. Her contribution has definitely been crucial for those magnificent results.

Not only Popović, but also right back Katarina Bulatović is a strong weapon for the attacking phase of the Montenegrins. Last year, she was prevented from playing by her own club, but now she´s ready to fire on all cylinders.

Also, the goalkeeping position is enhanced this season, as German international Clara Woltering has been of great importance to the team´s nearly flawless season. They are probably the most important and key figures of the team, but the other players are not far behind.

Budućnost have lost the last four encounters against Larvik though: the two teams met in the Preliminary Phase of the 2009/10 season and last year in the semi-final the Norwegians won both duels and advanced to the final.

Larvik hope to continue this success story, whilst the eastern Europeans aim to end their bad luck series, wishing to reach their first ever EHF Women's Champions League Final - eighth time lucky.


C.S. Oltchim Rm. Vâlcea (ROU) - Győri Audi ETO (HUN)
Sunday 1 April, 18:00 hrs (local time)


The duel of Budućnost against Larvik is the rematch of last year´s semi-final, whilst the clash between the Romanian and Hungarian champions will also be a classic meet-up. The two sides have met several times in the EHF Women's Champions League, the last time being in the semi-final of season 2009/10, when Oana Manea and her team-mates advanced to the final.

This will also be a great duel of the fans, as both dedicated fan groups are organising themselves to support their side in the loudest and most numerous way.

Győri Audi ETO have a strong squad, with two top-class players for every position, but the Hungarians have suffered a dip in form since the home draw against Itxako in the Main Round.

Despite the match being irrelevant for their final ranking, Győr suffered a defeat in Larvik and have also struggled in the Hungarian championship, where two club teams, Èrd and Kiskunhalas, gave them a tough time until half-time. 

Number one goalkeeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen suffered a slight hand injury during last week´s national team gathering, but the Norwegian international is reported to be ready for the important clash in Rm. Vâlcea. 

Hungarian left-winger Orsolya Vérten is questionable for the game, as she suffered a leg injury three weeks ago and didn’t participate in last weekend’s national team matches against Germany.

On the Romanian side, Cristina Neagu is still on rehabilitation, so she won´t be ready, as was expected earlier, for this important duel. Also sidelined is Marija Jovanović who suffered a shoulder injury in her side´s last Main Round match against Budućnost.

The Montenegrin international couldn´t participate in her country´s EHF EURO 2012 qualification matches against Russia and hasn’t trained in recent weeks.

Coach Radu Voina stressed that "Győr is a strong team that has strengthened its pivotal position since last year and has top players at every position."

Voina added: "Several of our players are absent, Ionela Stanca, Paula Ungureanu and Cristina Neagu. Nevertheless I think both teams have equal chances to reach the finals, with a slight advantage for Győr with playing the return match on home turf."

Oltchim player Aurelia Brădeanu performed for six seasons at Győr before returning to Romania, so she knows the Hungarians very well, despite their recent squad changes: "Emotions will not count in this duel. I aim for victory, just I did when I played in Győr colours."

The middle-back continued: "Their game revolves around Anita Görbicz. If we can manage to contain her, our chances will increase." 


TEXT: Márk Hegedüs
 
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