Women’s EHF Cup countdown: Part 14: Lada Togliatti (RUS)
Lada seek to keep motor running as long as possible
None of the 16 group phase participants of the new Women’s EHF Cup have more international silverware in their cabinet than Handball Club Lada.
The six-time Russian champions (all under the helm of Evgenii Trefilov) were twice EHF Cup winners (in 2012 and 2014) and won the Cup Winners’ Cup in 2002.
In addition, the club from Russian car capital Togliatti was a Champions League finalist in 2007 and reached the final of the Cup Winners’ Cup in May 2016, when they were defeated by Holstebro. But in contrast to Danish side, who lost in the third EHF Cup qualification round to Germany's Oldenburg, Lada are in the group phase.
But the All-Russian squad nearly stumbled in the first qualification round, progressing due to a superior number of away goals compared to Norwegian side Kristiansand. In the second round, the Lada motor was running perfectly and Levon Akopyan's team eliminated three-time Champions League winners Viborg in style.
Lada are in a state of full transition. Olympic gold medallists Olga Akopyan, Tatiana Erokhina and Irina Bliznova retired after their Rio 2016 success.
Ekaterina Kudriavtseva is ruled out with a knee injury for the whole season and Veronika Garanina is pregnant. Thus - as is traditional - new players from the never-ending Lada talent pool are getting their chance to make their first steps.
In Group D, Lada will face last season’s EHF Cup finalists, German club Metzingen, and the Scandinavian duo Nykøbing and Glassverket.
“All the teams in our group are very serious and strong. The Danish team plays in a strong domestic league, in which even the last team can beat the first team,” says head coach Akopyan.
“Glassverket had a good experience in the Champions' League this season. And Metzingen count on a lot of players from different countries,” he adds.
“We have no foreign players at all. Almost 80 per cent of our squad are pupils of Togliatti's local handball school. But our target is to take the first or second place and reach the quarter-final.”
For the Lada coach, all 16 teams at this stage of the competition have a similar chance of progressing to the finals, as “all deserve to be in the group phase”.
The competition's new concept is ideal for his young squad, says Akopyan.
“The group phase is more interesting for fans and participants. We have a young team and it is very important for us to play more matches with strong teams so that we can develop our skills.”
Handball Club Lada (RUS)
Left the club: Olga Akopyan, Tatiana Erokhina, Irina Bliznova (end of career), Yana Kostomakha, Julia Golubeva (HC Gomel), Natalia Chigirinova (Astrakhanochka Astrakhan), Daria Denikaeva (end of career)
Coach: Levon Akopyan
Opponents in the group matches: Glassverket, Nykøbing and Metzingen in Group D
TEXT: Björn Pazen / jh
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