Zvezda aiming for Wild Card place
The third best team in a strong Russian Championship, Zvezda Zvenigorod are aiming to secure a spot in the Women’s EHF Champions League Group Stage by winning this weekend’s Wild Card tournament.
Coached by Zdravko Zovko and his Croatian staff, they will travel to France to play hosts Issy Paris as well as German outfit HC Leipzig in matches from Friday to Sunday. The winner of the group will qualify for the Group D with last season’s Champions League winners RK Budućnost Podgorica, Thuringer HC from Germany and one more team from the qualifying stages.
“I believe that we can make something big happen in Europe this season,” said Zvezda newcomer Julia Nikolić (nee Portjanko), the Macdedonian ace.
“We are preparing for the matches in France with videos and work on some tactical tasks. Our first rival Leipzig is a really good team. They have a quality back line and tall defensive zone, but if we can do in the match what we have done in training, I am sure that we will win and qualify for the EHF Champions League.”
Nikolić was the best playmaker in the French League last season, but Zvezda’s ambitions to get back to the top of Russian handball and make waves across Europe were further underlined by the signing of Maria Sidorova, the Russian national team goalkeeper from Lada Togliatti, and French star Alexandra Lacrabère.
“We have a great chances in all the competitions,” added Nikolić. “That is why I decided to come here after financial problems at my previous team, French Arvor. I am really happy that I can speak my native language, so it was easy and quick to adapt.
“I know the majority of my team-mates already, so I had warm welcome. And the systems Zdravko Zovko uses are familiar to me, because we already worked together in Podravka.”
Nikolić is also helping Lacabrere, who also comes from Brest, to settle in at the team and she added: “I am trying to help her, to translate and explain what the coach says. We have played last two seasons together.
“In general, we have a very good squad. All the players have a lot of experience of playing important matches, and I believe that could be decisive at this tournament.”
Find more information on Wild Card Tournament here
TEXT: Žika Bogdanović