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21.05.2018, 10:30
Five in-form players to watch in EHF EURO 2018 Qualification
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FEATURE: We give you five players who are in peak form as the 2017/18 club season comes to an end, who now turn their attention to helping their national teams along the road to France
 

Five in-form players to watch in EHF EURO 2018 Qualification

As the 2017/18 season is approaching the end and Europe’s women’s teams turn their focus toward the final rounds of EHF EURO 2018 Qualification, there are certain players who hope to carry their top form from their club teams to their national squads.

Standings & Results


Here are five players who have stood out in their respective European cup club competitions – and are now ready to do the same for their national side as they vie for their places at the EHF EURO 2018 in France.

Andrea Lekic (centre back) – Serbia

Andrea Lekic is far from a new name for any handball fan, but has only recently rejoined the national team after head coach Ljubomir Obradovic took the helm in 2017. With Lekic and her HC Vardar teammate Dragana Cvijic back in the team, among others, Serbia are looking to work their way back into the EHF EURO Semi-finals, which they last reached in 2012.

First, they must qualify for the final tournament in France. Serbia have already shown how strong they are in the qualification phase as they currently sit at the top of Group 3 with six points alongside World Championship 2017 Semi-finalists Sweden, with Faroe Islands and FYR Macedonia as their final two opponents.

Lekic was solid in the previous EHF EURO Qualification rounds, but really showed her class on the court at the Women’s EHF FINAL4 in Budapest. With six goals for Vardar in the final against Györ, numerous assists and her exceptional playmaking ability, Lekic was one of the most impressive players at the FINAL4.

Ekaterina Ilina (centre back) – Russia

After being favoured as Russia’s starting centre back at the EHF EURO 2014, Ekaterina Ilina has since had a strong challenge in her position from 2016 Olympic Games All-star Daria Dmitrieva. There is no denying that, at the age of just 22, Dmitrieva is an exceptional talent – but Ilina showed her ability to perform under significant pressure at the Women’s EHF FINAL4, playing for Rostov-Don.

The Russian team struggled to play their own game in the semi-final, which Ilina started off court. When she came on, just after the end of the first quarter against Vardar, Ilina calmly arranged Rostov’s attack and contributed five impressive goals of her own as they found their way into the match.

She also scored three goals in the bronze-medal match, when Rostov were forced to settle for fourth place. Ilina’s calm could prove a key ingredient as Russia aim to make their way up from third place on the Group 4 table, where they are in danger of missing their first EHF EURO with matches against Portugal and Austria coming up.

Ana Maria Ticu (centre back) – Romania

With 16 goals for SCM Craiova in the two-leg EHF Cup Final against Vipers Kristiansand, centre back Ana Maria Ticu caught attention. Her performance was crucial in what was Craiova’s first ever European cup title.

After losing the away match 26:22, a 30:25 victory was exactly enough for Craiova to clinch the title, helped by 11 goals from Ticu. She finished the season with 45 goals for the Romanian club, and it is no surprise that national coach Ambros Martin has named her among his squad for the crucial last qualification games against Austria and Portugal as Romania aim to book their place in France.

Kinga Achruk (centre back) – Poland

Kinga Achruk is well-known as a former centre back for Buducnost, with whom she won the EHF Champions League 2014/15 title and played four consecutive FINAL4 events. Ahead of the 2017/18 season, she decided to move back to her native Poland to be closer to her family.

The move has served her well, and at the same time as several of her former Buducnost teammates were taking the court at the FINAL4 in Budapest, Achruk was celebrating MKS Perla Lublin’s first ever Challenge Cup title. After contributing five goals in the away leg of the final versus Rocasa Gran Canaria (22:22), Achruk was again the top scorer for her side, with seven in the 27:23 second-leg victory.

Achruk now hopes to lead Poland from qualification Group 2, where they count four points alongside Slovakia, to their third consecutive EHF EURO. They first travel to Italy before hosting Slovakia in the last match.

Larissa Kalaus (left back) – Croatia

21-year-old left back Larissa Kalaus already has some impressive achievements to her name – winning the Challenge Cup and tallying 55 goals for HC Lokomotiva Zagreb in 2016/17, and top scoring the same competition with 58 goals in 2017/18.

As 2016/17 was her first season playing in senior competitions, it is clear the young back is only going to become more of a nightmare for goalkeepers.

Kalaus has scored nine goals so far in Croatia’s campaign, which sees them ranked third in Group 1 after one win, against Switzerland in the opening round. The team – which also includes Kalaus’ identical twin sister, Dora – are therefore under significant pressure with only two matches remaining - in Switzerland and against Ukraine - to climb the table ranking.


TEXT: Courtney Gahan / ew
 
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