Two first leg matches of the Women´s EHF Champions League ended up in the identical result 22:24.
Krim and Györ move towards grand final
The Women’s EHF Champions League semi-final first legs produced a pair of classics showing just why these four teams have reached the business end of Europe’s premier club competition, displaying everything that makes handball a firm favourite among many sports fans throughout the continent.
Last season’s finalists Györ made a big step towards at least emulating their 2012 achievement with a hard-fought win at Romanians Oltchim Ramnicu Vâlcea, whose heroic fightback from a seven-goal deficit fell short of stopping the Hungarian side from stretching their perfect run to 13 straight wins.
The titanic tussle in the northern tip of Europe produced an identical scoreline and very much the same pattern, with Larvik falling behind heavily early on before a late rally saw them slash the deficit to two goals.
Oltchim Râmnicu Vâlcea (ROU) vs Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) 22:24 (10:14)
The much anticipated clash between two teams billed by many pundits as the finest in Europe lived up to expectations as Györ survived a late Oltchim onslaught after dominating proceedings in the opening half, when they led by as many as seven goals.
The pressure of playing the competition’s favourites was everywhere to be seen among Oltchim’s ranks, with the home team struggling in offence and conceding a barrage or easy goals.
The well-oiled Györ machine coached by Spaniard Ambros Martin carved out a 12:5 advantage in the 20th minute, with their Norwegian goalkeeper Katrine Lunde Haraldsen once again proving to be a stumbling block for her rivals.
Oltchim then showed grim determination to trim the visitors’ lead to four goals by halftime and continued to press forward in the second half, with Montenegro’s EHF EURO 2012 winner Katarina Bulatović finally finding her range.
The home fans were in raptures after Oltchim keeper Silvia Navarro scored by catching Haraldsen out of position and dispatching a delightful lob across the entire court, allowing the Romanian title holders to move within two goals (14:16) of drawing level.
But as Oltchim started breathing down their necks, Györ rediscovered some composure and dug deep into their resources to hold on to their slender lead, although Bulatović started to find chinks in the Hungarian side’s armour with alarming ease.
The visitors relied heavily on towering Brazilian Eduarda Amorim to keep them nosing ahead as a galvanised Romanian crowd roared on Oltchim in the closing stages.
“We had some good moments but we paid the price for making a very slow start,” Bulatović told ehftv.com after the strength-sapping encounter.
“It’s not a good result but we will not give up and have every intention of trying to overturn this deficit in Hungary because we are not out of it yet. We improved in the second half here but it wasn’t enough after making it difficult for ourselves early on,” she added.
A defiant Bulatović led Oltchim’s charge with eight goals and middle back Anita Görbicz scored as many at other end, although a bulk of her tally came from the seven-metre penalty line.
The outstanding Amorim added six for Györ, who will head into the second leg as firm favourites to reach the final although Oltchim will certainly have something to say about that in the second leg on Thursday in Veszprém.
Larvik (NOR) vs Krim Mercator (SLO) 22:24 (9:16)
Not even the most optimistic Krim fans could have hoped for the dream start their team made against Larvik, romping away to a 6:0 lead in the opening 10 minutes against the more fancied home side boasting a stack of trophy-laden Norwegian internationals.
The Slovenian title holders, who are aiming for their third EHF Champions League title after last winning the trophy in 2001, quite simply stunned Larvik with a tall and athletic 6-0 defence which made the hosts look like they were shooting at a wall in the early exchanges.
Jelena Grubišić, who racked up an impressive total of 17 saves, shone between the posts while just about everything Krim fired at the other end went into the back of the net and the normally vociferous home fans were silenced for long spells in the opening period.
Any hopes Larvik might have had of staging a blitz comeback were snuffed out in a one-sided first half by Krim’s patient build-ups, which allowed their backcourt specialists to rifle in uncontested shots or find space for the wings on either flank.
However, the pattern changed after the break as Gro Hammerseng led Larvik’s fightback with Krim’s offence grinding to a halt, as they only managed two goals in 14 minutes and allowed the home side to reduce the arrears to 18:16.
But right back Susann Müller had other ideas and it was her stellar performance, coupled with Grubišić’s commanding presence in goal, that enabled Krim to take what could turn out to be a priceless two-goal advantage into the return leg on home court.
Müller scored with a piledriver from 10 metres at a turning point in the game, giving Krim a 24:21 before Linn-Kristin Koren Riegelhuth netted a penalty shot to give Larvik some hope of turning the tables in week’s time.
The effervescent Grubišić pipped Müller, who scored a game-high eight goals from as many shots, to the accolade of being Krim’s best player of the game while Hammerseng earned the plaudits at the other end with six goals for the home team.
Croatian left back Andrea Penezić bagged in four goals and right wing Tamara Mavsar chipped in with three for a well-balanced Krim outfit, who could have won by a bigger margin but missed three seven-metre penalty shots. Anja Edin and Riegelhuth added four goals each for Larvik.
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljević / br
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