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31.10.2013, 09:00
Györ and Midtjylland seek Main Round berths
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ROUND PREVIEW: First teams can make it through to the Main Round with two rounds still to go as the European top flight resumes after the national team week.
 

Györ and Midtjylland seek Main Round berths

With the EHF Champions League Group Matches at the halfway stage, holders Györi Audi ETO and Danish contenders FC Midtjylland can advance into the Main Round with two games to spare if they get the results they need this weekend.

While Györ will be strong favourites to beat Thüringer HC at home, Midtjylland face a somewhat more difficult task when they visit 2012 champions Buducnost Podgorica, who desperately need a win to stay in the hunt for a berth in the last eight.

Former champions Larvik and emerging force Vardar Skopje also have a good chance of progressing together from Group D, especially the 2011 winners from Norway who are at home to winless Spaniards Balonmano Bera Bera.

Vardar should also be too strong for a youthful Podravka side, having beaten the Croatian title holders by a whopping margin in the Macedonian capital. Sweden’s IK Sävehof will hope to continue their good run when they entertain Leipzig at home, while bouncing back will be the only thing on Krim Mercator’s mind when they take on Metz Handball.

Group A

Hypo Niederöstereich (AUT) vs HCM Baia Mare (ROU)
Saturday 2 November at 20:25 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Maria Enzersdorf

With runaway group leaders and defending champions Györi Audi ETO almost assured of a Main Round berth, former quadruple winners Hypo Niederöstereich face a crucial home game against Romanian debutants Baia Mare in their bid to avoid another early exit after they also failed to reach the Main Round last season.

Losing to the same opposition in the reverse fixture two weeks ago certainly didn’t help their cause and the Austrian giants know there is no more room for error, with Germany’s Thüringer HC also in contention for a runners-up finish and ready to pounce.

In Alexandra Do Nascimento, Hypo have one of the top scorers in the Champions League this season but the home side will need the support cast to do more if they are to advance into the last eight.

Baia Mare will feel they have nothing to lose after celebrating their maiden win in the competition two weeks ago, when they scored the game winner late in the match to down Hypo in front of a raucous home crowd.


Györi Audi ETO (HUN) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
Saturday 2 November 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Györ

The holders are very likely to book their Main Round ticket with two games to spare, as anything except an emphatic fourth successive win in the preliminary group stage would constitute a huge shock.

Having brushed Thüringer HC aside in Germany a fortnight ago when they celebrated an eight-goal win in Nordhausen, Györ are odds-on favourites to emulate that achievement and stroll into the last eight.

The Hungarian champions, who won their first European title last season after a plethora of near misses, have racked up an avalanche of goals this season despite having only their regular penalty taker Anita Görbicz among the leading scorers with 22 goals on her tally.

That, however, speaks for the ruthless consistency and not lack of firepower in their star-studded outfit, as Norway pivot Heidi Loke netted 18 while Brazil’s Eduarda Amorim and Montenegrin prodigy Katarina Bulatovic chipped in with 14 goals each.

Anything other than a convincing defeat will be a bonus for hard-fighting Thüringer HC, who will have a chance to reach the Main Round in their final two group matches no matter what happens on Saturday.

The game will also be a stern test for the competition’s top scorer Sonja Frey and her teammate Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa, as the team’s dual driving force will be up against the continent’s most fearsome machine in women’s club handball.  

Group B

MKS Selgros Lublin (POL) vs FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Sunday 3 November 17:15 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Lublin

The Polish champions have terminated their contract with coach Edward Jankowski by mutual consent after three successive defeats, as his assistant Sabina Wlodek took over in a caretaker capacity ahead of the vital game against FTC.

Only a win will realistically keep Lublin in contention for at least a third-place finish and thus a Cup Winners’ Cup spot after the winter break, while FTC will be looking for another win that would take them a step closer to the Main Round.

As ever, the Hungarian side’s top scorer Zsuzsanna Tomori will be the biggest threat for FTC alongside prolific winger Monika Kovacsicz, as the high-scoring duo has so far combined for 38 goals in three games.

Buducnost Podgorica (MNE) vs FC Midtjylland (DEN)
Sunday 3 November 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Podgorica

Buducnost will be fighting for their Champions League survival in this mouth-watering clash against unbeaten Midtjylland, who will reach the Main Round if they avoid defeat in the Montenegrin capital.

Looking by far the most competitive preliminary stage group, the three-way battle for two berths in the last eight could go down to the wire if Buducnost can turn around their fortunes after defeats at FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria and Danish flag carriers Midtjylland.

The Montenegrin title holders, who have overhauled most of the outfit which won Europe’s premier club competition in 2012, will need their centre back Milena Knezevic to start firing on all cylinders in attack after she scored a mere seven goals in three games so far.

The hosts, likely to be backed by a full house in the noisy Moraca Arena, will count on backcourt sharpshooters Camilla Dalby and Cristina Neagu, as well as lethal wingers Radmila Petrovic and Majda Mehmedovic to deliver the goods as they have done thus far.

FC Midtjylland, on the other hand, can rely on a well balanced outfit in  which each player is capable of stepping up to the plate on any given matchday, a trait which has seen them jump into the group’s driving seat halfway through the race for Main Round berths.

Group C

IK Sävehof (SWE) vs HC Leipzig (GER)
Sunday 3 November 18:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Partille

Two successive wins have seen IK Sävehof surge into a promising position to challenge for a berth in the Main Round and having stunned Leipzig in the reverse fixture in Germany, the Swedish champions will certainly hope to repeat the feat on home court in Partille.

Two more points on their account would lift them to within touching distance of the last eight, an accomplishment very few of their fans dared dream about when the groups were drawn.

But impressive performances by Jamina Roberts and Ida Oden enabled them to beat Metz and Leipzig after they also held their own for 50 minutes against the mighty Krim Mercator, meaning that they will no longer be a surprise package for any of their more heralded rivals.

Missing four key players through injury, Leipzig will need to dig deep in to their resources to get back on the rails. As usual, the German side will bank on the scoring prowess of Susann Muller and Karolina Szwed Orneborg in their quest to win this vital encounter.

RK Krim Mercator (SLO) vs Metz Handball (FRA)  
Saturday 2 November 20:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Ljubljana

Metz staged one of the upsets of the round two weeks ago when they forced Krim into submission and hauled themselves back into the race for a berth in the Main Round.

The tightest and most balanced of the four preliminary stage groups promises an enthralling battle for a top-two finish as all four teams are still in contention to reach the last eight.

Metz slipped to a pair of narrow and unfortunate defeats by Leipzig and Sävehof in the opening two games but then showed all their potential in the reverse fixture against Krim, edging them in a thriller thanks to iron-clad defence in the first half.

Containing Krim’s prolific trio of Andrea Penezic, Barbara Lazovic-Varlec and Tamara Mavsar, who scored only six goals between them in Metz, will once again be the key to success for the French side.

Krim will hope that wingers Neli Irman and Katarina Krpez can keep up their good form and make the incisive runs down either flank that should open up space for the backcourt shooters.

Group D

HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO) vs WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD)
Sunday 3 November 18:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Koprivnica

Victory at Podravka would see Vardar reach the Main Round in their first season in Europe’s top flight, after heavy investment enticed some of the game’s most heralded players to the Macedonian capital.

Podravka, for their part, must win to keep alive any realistic hopes of advancing into the last eight but will have a mountain to climb against a star-studded outfit led by Serbia playmaker Andrea Lekic and Montenegro winger Jovanka Radicevic.

The youthful Croatian outfit, who lost some key players during the summer break to wealthier rivals, will count on the vociferous support of their handball-loving fans to give Vardar a good run for their money in Koprivnica.

Even a draw would be a good result for Podravka after they suffered a crushing defeat in the reverse fixture in Skopje, while defeat would leave them in a dogfight with Spaniards Balonmano Bera Bera for a third-place finish and a berth in the Cup Winners Cup after the winter break.

Larvik (NOR) vs Balonmano Bera Bera (ESP)
Saturday, 2 November 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Larvik

The visit to Larvik will be another precious experience for Balonmano Bera Bera, who lost all three group matches but have won the hearts of many neutral fans with their spirited approach.

The Norwegian giants will book a Main Round berth with a win and any other outcome, following their mauling of the Spaniards in San Sebastian, would amount to a huge upset sending shockwaves among handball pundits in Europe.

The game will be yet another opportunity for Larvik’s prolific winger Linn-Kristin Riegelhuth Koren to leapfrog some of her rivals on the top scorers list, as she is now seventh-placed with 20 goals to her name.

With talents such as Gro Hammerseng-Edin, Linn Jorum Sulland, Nora Mork and Isabel Blanco, Larvik should definitely be too strong for their rivals and are likely to produce a high-scoring performance in front of their noisy fans.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br
 
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