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05.10.2017, 13:30
Opening round sees history repeat itself for 2017 finalists
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GROUP MATCHES PREVIEW: The Women’s EHF Champions League begins this weekend with a number of exciting games and five teams making their debut
 

Opening round sees history repeat itself for 2017 finalists

The 25th season of the Women’s EHF Champions League season gets underway on Friday in Skopje with the intriguing clash of beaten finalists HC Vardar and Hungarian contenders FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria.

Current title holders Györi Audi ETO KC will enter the competition on Saturday against Midtjylland, while the 2016 champions CSM Bucuresti begin their campaign against RK Krim Merkator.

· Bietigheim, Gdynia, Kristiansand, NFH and Brest all play their debut season in the Champions League
· Similar to the previous season, Györ start at home against Midtjylland, and Vardar host FTC in the first match day
· Bucharest open their campaign with the match against Krim, whom they twice defeated in the main tound last season

GROUP A

CSM Bucuresti (ROM) vs RK Krim Merkator (SLO)
Saturday 7 October, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

So far, CSM have boasted an excellent record in Europe’s top flight. The Romanian team entered the competition just twice, but both times managed to reach the FINAL4.

After winning the trophy in 2016, they finished third the following year, which was also quite a success.

This year, Bucuresti strengthened their squad with a number of classy players such as Cristina Neagu, Amanda Kurtovic, Sabina Jacobsen and Nathalie Hagman.

With the newly-arrived head coach Helle Thomsen, who is also at the helm of the Netherlands women's national team, CSM are not shy about their ambitions and are expected to go far once again.

The Bucharest outfit are quite familiar with their first opponent as they faced Krim in the main round last season. Both times CSM clinched hard-fought victories - 24:21 away and 28:26 at home - with Isabelle Gullden their top scorer with seven and ten goals respectively.

Needless to say than now Krim should keep an eye on the Swedish playmaker. Her impact was one the factors preventing the Slovenian team from reaching the quarter-finals and now the squad of Uros Bregar hope to have learned their lesson.

NFH-Nykobing Falster Handboldklub (DEN) vs Vistal Gdynia (POL)
Saturday 7 October, 14:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP B

Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs FC Midtjylland (DEN)

Saturday 7 October, 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

The current title holders Györ enter the European season with the clear goal of repeating their success. However, they have a long way to go, and their primary task is to advance from a competitive Group B.

For the Hungarian side, this is a case of déjà vu as last season they also had to face Midtjylland and Rostov at this stage.

Furthermore, Györ also played their opening game at home against Midtjylland and ran out comfortable 31:19 winners.

However, in the return match, the Danish side took revenge (27:23) and became the only team to beat the eventual champions in the group matches or main round.

Midtjylland know how to upset the Hungarian powerhouse, although that makes their away trip no easier. The Ikast-based team have made quite a number of changes to the squad during the summer, but head coach Kristian Kristensen’s team have gelled well so far and sit top of the Danish league.

Györ also have some new faces, with the arrival of Anja Althaus and Stine Oftedal  to huge reinforcements.

Coach Ambros Martin is looking forward to new challenges: “An even more difficult season is ahead of us, and we are going to need extra power to make it as successful as the previous one. We know well what it is like to be on the top and also the road to the peak. Our goal is to proceed step by step.”

The bad news Martin is both Zsuzsanna Tomori and Jana Knedlikova came back injured from EHF EURO 2018 Qualification last week. Both players will need four to six weeks to recover, leaving Györ without for most of the group matches. 

Rostov-Don (RUS) vs Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA)
Saturday 7 October, 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP C

HC Vardar (MKD) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Friday 6 October, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

History will also repeat itself in Skopje on Friday. Vardar are scheduled to clash with FTC in the first round for the second consecutive season as they raise the curtain on the season at Jane Sandanski arena.

Last season, their encounter in Skopje ended in a 27:27 draw, which was followed by an eight-game winning run for Vardar.

The Macedonian side were among the favourites to win the title and reached the final, yet they came up just short against Györ in the decisive match.

“It is good that we are starting the competition on home court. FTC are a good team and one of the favourites to advance to the FINAL4.

“Last year, we lost a point against them at the beginning, so now we have to do our best to make our fans happy,” says Vardar's head coach Irina Dibirova.

Last season, the powerful FTC were stopped by CSM Bucuresti in the quarter-finals, yet now they dream of reaching the Women’s EHF FINAL4 which will be played in their home city Budapest.

FTC's squad have not changed much and the match in Skopje will be a good indicator of whether their consistency has paid off. 

Larvik (NOR) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
Saturday 7 October, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

GROUP D

Buducnost (MNE) vs SG BBM Bietigheim (GER)
Saturday 7 October, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

The Montenegrin champions are heading into a season of transition and uncertainty. Not much is left of the group which were crowned the best in Europe in 2012 and 2015, with most key players opting to move elsewhere over the past two summers.

This summer, three big players parted ways with Buducnost - Katarina Bulatovic, Cristina Neagu and Dragana Cvijic. In their absence, the head coach Dragan Adzic has built a new team of young talents, which means their perfect Women’s EHF FINAL4 participation record is under threat.

However, Buducnost's primary goal is progressing to the main round, which certainly seems to more realistic.

In the opening game, the Montenegrin side hope for a positive result against Bietigheim, who are debutants at this level.

Yet the German champions should be taken very seriously. Last season, they impressed by winning all their matches in the national league and reached the EHF Cup final in their maiden European campaign, eventually losing to Rostov-Don.

This is another step forward for Bietigheim, who also harbour hopes of at least advancing to the main round and this encounter in Podgorica will put those hopes to the test.

Metz Handball (FRA) vs Vipers Kristiansand (NOR)
Sunday 8 October, 19:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com


TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cor
 
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