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14.11.2013, 12:20
Group stage drama heads into final act
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ROUND PREVIEW: Five candidates for two Main Round tickets and three battles for the top spot in groups B, C and D are in the focus as the last round of the Women's EHF Champions League Group Matches will be played over the upcoming weekend.
 

Group stage drama heads into final act

There will be plenty at stake on the final weekend of the Women's EHF Champions League Group Matches, with five teams still vying for the remaining two Main Round berths in Groups A and B.

While the tussle in Group B is between 2012 winners Buducnost and FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria, with the Montenegrin team needing to win their clash in Podgorica to go through, all three sides behind already qualified Györ are still in the hunt in Group A.

Metz and Sävehof, both through to the last eight, are chasing the top spot in Group C as are 2011 champions Larvik and Macedonian dark horses Vardar in Group D, who meet in an eagerly awaited derby at the continent’s far north after a thrilling reverse fixture in Skopje.

Also in Group D, Balonmano Bera Bera could still finish third and clinch a Cup Winners' Cup berth if they beat Podravka by an avalanche of goals.

Group A

Thüringer HC vs Hypo Niederöstereich (AUT)
Sunday 17 November at 15:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Nordhausen

Definitely one of the most intriguing games in the final round, as it will determine the fate of the three teams chasing a Main Round berth alongside Györ, who had qualified with two games to spare as the strong favourites from this group.

Thüringer’s entire season in Europe is on the line as they need to win by four goals or more to finish second, provided that there is no upset in Györ where the reigning champions are at home to Romania’s Baia Mare.

In the unlikely event that Baia Mare avoid defeat in Hungary, Hypo would have to match their result to stay ahead of them while Thüringer would need to win by six goals or more, depending on goals scored, to finish third and grab the consolation prize of playing in the Cup Winners' Cup.

Hypo will again in all likelihood rely on the lethal finishing of right wing Alexandra Do Nascimento, the competition’s top scorer with 42 goals who shone in last weekend’s narrow defeat by Györ when she netted eight times.

Thüringer, on the other hand, will hope for a better attacking display than they managed in a close defeat at Baia Mare which put them in a rather unenviable position ahead of the final round.  

Györi Audi ETO (HUN) vs HC Baia Mare (ROU)
Saturday 16 November 18:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Györ

The holders have their pride and reputation to play for in the last round, having easily secured their Main Round ticket. Knowing that a draw or a win would seal at least a third-place finish and possibly even the runners-up spot, if the result of the Thuringer v Hypo match goes their way, there is little doubt that Baia Mare will play like their lives depend on this game.

That should in no uncertain terms be a strong incentive for Györ to be fully committed and keep their perfect group stage record intact, having won all their games emphatically apart from last weekend’s narrow victory at Hypo, where Katarina Bulatovic shone with a game-high nine goals.

If Hypo win at Thüringer, even an unlikely win at Györ would see Baia Mare finish third. Should German champions beat Hypo at home, a draw would see Romanian outfit finish second. The possible outcome of all three teams finishing on four points would mean that their race for a Main Round berth as well as a Cup Winners' Cup spot would come down to a complex three-way head to head record between them.

Group B

FC Midtjylland (DEN) vs MKS Selgros Lublin (POL)
Sunday 17 November 13:15 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Ikast

Midtjylland have already secured their passage to the next stage of the competition but the enticing prize of finishing top of the group awaits if they avoid losing their last group match at home to Lublin, who have lost all five their previous games.

Hence the Danish giants, formerly known as Ikast, will most probably clinch a tough and delicately balanced group after their valuable win at FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria last weekend put them to the fore.

The match against Lublin will be yet another chance for their smooth outfit, in which several players have the ability to carry the mantle when the going gets tough, to show the kind of grit and determination which propelled them into Europe’s elite.

Buducnost Podgorica (MNE) vs FTC Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Sunday 17 November 18:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Podgorica

The enthralling three-way battle for two Main Round berths in Group B has produced the most desirable scenario a neutral fan could hope for, with Buducnost and FTC battling it out among themselves for the right to join Midtjylland in the last eight.

The calculation is clear: Buducnost must win to avoid the less consolating honour of carrying on in the Cup Winners' Cup, while FTC have to avoid defeat if they are to progress.

FTC’s home defeat by Midtjylland last weekend put them in a difficult position when a Main Round berth seemed within their grasp, while Buducnost hauled themselves back into the hunt with emphatic wins over the Danes and then Lublin.

In the improbable event that Midtjylland lose at home to Lublin, Buducnost would finish top of the group if they beat FTC while a runners-up finish is the best the Hungarian outfit can manage after the slip-up on home court.

Buducnost coach Dragan Adzic was optimistic abut his team’s chances after a clinical display in Lublin. "Our poorest performance of the group stage was in Dabas against FTC and I am convinced we will put it right and win the decisive clash with the Hungarian side on home court,“ Adzic was quoted as saying by daily Vijesti.

"We have time to rest and recuperate and we need it because I am sure FTC will play much better than they did against Midtjylland,“ he said.  

Group C

Metz Handball vs IK Sävehof (SWE)
Sunday 17 November 13:15 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Metz

Having defied the odds to reach the Main Round, Sävehof will now play for the group’s top spot with no pressure of having to clinch it.

When this balanced group was drawn, the Swedish champions were probably very few people’s favourites to overcome the likes of Metz and Leipzig in the battle to progress to the last eight, but impressive performances against their German and French rivals saw them join Krim Mercator in the Main Round with a match to spare.

A double win over injury-hit Leipzig was the key for Sävehof, whose striking pins Ida Oden, Jamina Roberts and Jenny Alm carried the lion’s share of the weight in securing the passage from a fiercely competitive preliminary stage group.

Metz, for their part, paid the price for a poor start but their performances suggest they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Cup Winners' Cup, where they will carry on no matter what they do against Sävehof.

RK Krim Mercator (SLO) vs HC Leipzig (GER)  
Saturday 16 November 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Ljubljana

Krim Mercator will be firing on all cylinders to grab the win that would secure top spot in a group they largely dominated, but the one defeat at Metz that they suffered halfway through the group stage means they have to match Sävehof’s result in the last round if they are to stay ahead of them.

Leipzig have basically played better handball than their poor tally of two points might suggest and the visit to Slovenia may be a chance for the German side, ravaged by injuries to some key players, to improve the overall impression when they face one of Europe’s most resourceful teams.

Krim coach Tone Tiselj will be buoyed by the fine form of all his influential players, namely winger Tamara Mavsar and backcourt leader Andrea Penezic, who scored five goals each in last weekend’s draw at Sävehof that steered both sides through to the last eight.

Group D

Larvik (NOR) vs WHC Vardar SCBT (MKD)
Saturday 16 November 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Larvik

The thrilling 27:27 draw these two teams played out in the reverse fixture in Skopje had fans screaming for more of the same, as the rollercoaster between one of Europe’s most heralded teams and the emerging force from FYR Macedonia produced enthralling handball.

The eagerly awaited rematch, with Larvik having the edge as hosts this time, will sort out who finishes top of the group and get the cushion of a kinder Main Round draw, with both teams in all likelihood eager to avoid the prospect of facing holders Györ before the knockout stage.

Vardar, who got their maiden campaign in the continent’s premier club competition with a scrappy 23:19 win at Balonmano Bera Bera, improved quickly and steadily throughout the group stage as their star-studded outfit gelled seamlessly.

Larvik also produced the trademark consistency which saw them survive among Europe’s elite for a very long time, having won the 2011 title with the bulk of their current squad carrying the mantle.

While Larvik were pushed to the limit in last weekend’s win over Podravka, Vardar never got out of second gear against Balonmano Bera Bera and the difference in exertions could play into the hands of the Macedonian champions, although the last season's runners-up will count on the support of their home fans.

Balonmano Bera Bera (ESP) vs HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO)
Sunday 17 November 12:15 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
In Donostia – San Sebastian

Although the final group match will most probably be the end of the road for Balonmano Bera Bera, there is little doubt that their faithful Basque fans will pack the home court once again and show the same kind of passion the group’s bottom team has enjoyed throughout the campaign.

Bera Bera could even finish third and continue their European odyssey in the Cup Winners' Cup, but to do that they need to win by a whopping 11 goals or more and that is by all means going to be a mountain to climb.

Podravka will want to not just to avoid the kind of embarrassing defeat that would condemn them to an early exit from Europe, but also romp to a morale-boosting win after giving Larvik a good run for their money following a series of disappointing results.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br
 
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