GROUP 2 PREVIEW: EHF Champions League holders, Buducnost Podgorica, will aim to bounce back from last week’s defeat at Györi, when they entertain Vardar in an eagerly awaited clash between rivals from the former Yugoslavia region.
Vardar visit wounded Buducnost in Balkan derby
The highlight of the group’s second round matches is a mouth-watering encounter between reigning champions, Buducnost and fellow Balkan rivals, Vardar, with a plethora of household names set to take centre stage in the Moraca Arena.
CSM Bucuresti will begin as the slight favourite in their game against FC Midtjylland in an intriguing fixture, featuring contrasting styles. Meanwhile, previous victors, Györi Audi ETO KC, have what looks like a straight-forward task at IK Savehof after last week’s impressive home win over Buducnost.
With Buducnost, Györi Audi ETO KC and Vardar as favourites to occupy the top three spots, Bucuresti and Midtjylland may well end up in a dog fight for the last remaining quarter-final ticket; hence, both teams will head into the clash under a fair amount of pressure.
While Bucuresti displayed plenty of steel and resolve against Vardar, Midtjylland pulled out an expected 25:21 home win against IK Savehof in an entertaining Scandinavian derby. Following their win over the Swedish champions, the Danish powerhouse enjoyed a fine warm-up before the clash with Bucuresti, as they breezed past their national league’s bottom team Sonderjyske 32:22, to stay atop the first division with 23 points from 13 games.
Sabina Jacobsen, Stine Jorgensen and Johanna Ahlm scored six goals each in a lop-sided contest, whose outcome would have nevertheless instilled a dose of confidence ahead of the daunting trip to the Romanian capital.
The Romanian side will again rely on the shooting prowess of their prolific Swedish star, Isabelle Gullden, who netted a game-high eight goals against Vardar and should once more be the main threat to the opposition.
Buducnost (MNE) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
The Montenegrin giants and Vardar will renew their fast-emerging rivalry when they lock horns in what should be another epic encounter. In a memorable semi-final of the 2013/2014 season, Buducnost came out on top 22:20, before succumbing to Györi 27:21 in the final.
Coach Dragan Adzic made it clear in his post-match comments that he preferred to suffer defeat at this stage of the competition rather than in the knockout stages, where there is no room for error. But there is no doubt he will want to avoid a second successive setback.
With only two points separating the top five sides, both teams will see the outcome of their eagerly awaited showdown as an essential step for their ambitions of reaching the last eight.
The good news for the pride of Montenegro is that straight after the reverse in Hungary, a bulk of the club’s top players extended their contracts, giving Adzic a sound platform to pursue long-term goals and thus, increasing his collection for his impressive trophy cabinet.
One of them, Romanian left back, Cristina Neagu, revealed how important it was for her committing her future to Buducnost. “I am proud to be part of this team and delighted to have extended my contract to next season,” she told the club’s official website. “I’ve had a great time here for the past three seasons and I am confident that will not change. Everyone knows we are a team with huge ambitions and I believe we have what it takes to keep playing at the highest level.”
Vardar, for their part, squeaked out a precious home win against CSM Bucuresti last weekend, clawing their way into the section’s third place. Having suffered a pair of losses by Györi in the preliminary group stage, Vardar will be keen to avoid the same fate against Buducnost in the main round and the visit to Podgorica will constitute a stern test of their credentials.
IK Savehof (SWE) vs Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN)
Györi showed all their might against the reigning champions, as they forced Buducnost into submission without left back, Zsuzsana Tomori, who is out for the rest of the season with a long-term injury and additionally, lacking the influential playmaker, Anita Gorbicz.
Propelled by their magnificent goalkeeper, Kari Aalvik Grimsbo, the Hungarian side fired on all cylinders and there is little doubt they will be just as determined against Savehof.
The Swedish roster can hardly be expected to punch above their weight in a group featuring some of Europe’s strongest teams, but they will surely give everything they have on home court to make life difficult for the mighty Györi.
The trio is again expected to propel Györ in Sweden, where fans create a cracking atmosphere, apart from who the opposition is. On Sunday, the fans will once again be present, regardless of the fact that Savehof have zero points from five games.
Savehof held their own for long spells against FCM in Denmark, but to stay on an even keel with Györ, who warmed up for the clash with a narrow 27:26 Hungarian league win over Erdi, they will have to up their game when they face one of Europe’s best teams.
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic/tm
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