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12.10.2015, 19:00
Budapest a must for ambitious Vardar
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Women’s EHF Champions League club countdown: 4 days to go - HC Vardar (MKD)
 

Budapest a must for ambitious Vardar

Two years ago, they made an instant splash by making it to the MVM EHF FINAL4 as debutants, in May 2014 they were part of the pinnacle event again - and in both cases Vardar Skopje lost their semi-final against Buducnost. To book the trip to Budapest for a third time is the goal of the Macedonian champions this season.

In contrast to the previous years, the squad did not change that much: The only newcomers are Serbian left back Sanja Damnjanovic (from Viborg) and Croatian Andrea Covic from Podravka.

“It is good for the team that they come from Balkan countries, because they will acclimatise much quicker than other players who came to Macedonia for the first time,” says club manager Ana Mihajlovska.

Three key players have left Vardar - including Allison Pineau, who had already transferred during last season. “I expect to have a good performance in the Champions League, as now we have two years of experience in this competition. The team is almost the same, so they will quickly find their rhythm,” Mihajlovska explains her high hopes.

In the previous season, Vardar were the first team to stop Györ after eight semi-final participations in the Champions League in a row by defeating the 2013 and 2014 champions in the quarter-finals. Now both main contenders for the FINAL4 face already in the group matches, together with Midtjylland and Hypo in Group C.

Vardar defeated Midtjylland in the bronze medal match of the 2014 FINAL4, but the Danish champions are expected to be a tough challenge.

“They have an excellent goalkeeper, they give their best and fight until end of the game, especially when they play at home,” says Mihajlovska, for whom Hypo is the most unknown team in their group.

Newcomer Sanja Damnjanovic had faced Midtjylland with Viborg often in the Danish league, so the Serb knows a lot about them: “FC Midtjylland are always a good team, they play a fast Danish style. The encounters will be exciting but I hope we will win.”

Damnjanovic expects the games against Györ to be the crucial ones for the top position of Group C, and admits: “They have a better team than last season, firstly because many players are back and secondly because they signed more good players. So they are one of the favourites for the title.”

Despite a lot of respect for Hypo Damnjanovic hopes “that we do not have that much trouble against them”.

The 28-year-old’s expectations for her first season in Skopje are very high: “The primary objective is the FINAL 4. Two years in a row, Vardar was there, but always missed one step to take the trophy. It’s not easy to take it, because many clubs work many years to get it. So we expect a difficult journey, as several teams have the possibility to win the Champions League. But when you are in Budapest, anything is possible.”

Pre-season was quite successful for the team of head coach Indira Kastratovic: They won the Vardar Tournament in Skopje and were finalists at the Bucharest Trophy, only the start of the preparation was a bit shaky with two defeats at French champions Fleury. The final step towards the start of the season was a preparation camp in Ohrid, Macedonia.

Just like Romanian side Baia Mare, Vardar have a male and female team in Europe’s top flight and both sides are main contenders for reaching their respective FINAL4 events.

“Both want to promote Macedonian handball all over Europe in a good way,” says Mihajlovska, who highlights the importance of being part of this competition not only for Vardar or the city of Skopje, but the whole country.

HC Vardar (MKD)

Qualification for the 2015/16 EHF Women’s Champions League season: Macedonian champions

Newcomers:  Sanja Damnjanovic (Viborg HK) and Andrea Covic (HC Podravka Vegeta)

Left the club:  Begona Fernandez (retired), Julija Nikolic (retired),  Allison Pineau (Baia Mare), Simona Stojanovska, Sara Mitova (HC Vardar Junior), Ivana Gakidova (Banik Most).

Coaches: Indira Kastratovic (since 2012). Jan Pytlick (since 2014)

Team captain: Inna Suslina

EHF Women’s Champions League records:
Participations (including 2015/16 season): 3
Semi-final: 2013/14, 2014/15 (both third ranked at MVM EHF FINAL4)

Other achievements:

EHF Cup: Last 16: 2012/13

Macedonian champion:  2013, 2014, 2015
Macedonian cup winner: 1993, 2014, 2015


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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