ROUND PREVIEW: The first-ever group round of the new Women's EHF Cup throws off with eight matches this weekend.
New format in a new year
The newly formatted Women’s EHF Cup, merged from the old EHF Cup and Cup Winners' Cup, has reached its first-ever group stage. The 16 qualified teams from seven countries, drawn into four groups, will play their games this Saturday and Sunday.
VfL Oldenburg (GER) vs Nantes Loire Atlantique HB (FRA)
Saturday 7 January, 18:00 hrs (local time)
The team from Oldenburg in Germany faced tough opposition on their way to the group phase. Yet they managed to brush aside France's Fleury and then created a major surprise by eliminating defending previous Cup Winners' Cup champions Holstebro.
The team, now coached by Leszek Krowicki, are eager to show themselves in a good light in Group A and their morale was boosted on Wednesday (4 January) after comfortably beating HC Leipzig away in the German Bundesliga 36:24.
Nantes also have the same ambition - to be one of the best four teams. So far, the French side boast a perfect record in the EHF Cup this season, having won all six qualification games against Portugal's Alavarium, Hungary's DVSC and the Dutch team Dalfsen. In their domestic competition, they currently occupy second position just behind champions Metz.
IK Sävehof (SWE) vs Randers HK (DEN)
Sunday 8 January, 15:00 hrs (local time)
The 2016/7 international season has been a disappointment for Sävehof to date with the Swedish champions not living up to expectations in the Women’s EHF Champions League, finishing last in their group and failing to advance to the Main Round.
Even though that European campaign is over, the team of Henrik Signell have another shot and want to redeem themselves by successfully performing in the Women’s EHF Cup.
For Randers, the road to the group stage was different, and the Danish side were somewhat lucky in qualification round 3. The 2010 EHF Cup winners narrowly beat Poland's Lublin at home (28:27), and draw 23:23 away to advance on aggregate (51:50).
"It is an honour to have qualified to the first group stage ever,” said Randers Head Coach Ryan Zinglersen who saw his team finish 2016 on a positive note, winning the Danish Cup for the first time in their history.
HC Leipzig (GER) vs Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA)
Saturday 7 January, 18:00 hrs (local time)
The German side may feel unfortunate after missing out on a Women’s EHF Champions Main Round place by just one goal difference from their group.
That berth was taken by Russian side Astrakhanochka, and Leipzig now must continue their European season in the Women’s EHF Cup.
Team leaders such as Shenia Minewskaja, Franziska Mietzner and Anne Hubinger have long-term injuries, and their influential captain Karolina Kudlacz-Gloc is expecting a baby, so head coach Norman Rentsch has to rely on younger players to see them through the early group stages.
While Leipzig are quite experienced in Europe, their first opponents in Group B are enjoying their maiden season in a continental tournament. And the story has been successful so far for Brest Bretagne Handball.
In the three previous qualification rounds Brest won six games out of six, eliminating Madeira, Dinamo Sinara and Bera Bera. The debutants will try to be humble in their words, but with a number of classy players in their squad they are likely to create some surprises, and Leipzig will face a big challenge on Saturday.
Kuban (RUS) vs Alba Fehervar KC (HUN)
Saturday 7 January, 16:00 hrs (local time)
In December, Kuban's head coach Evgeni Trefilov and five players went to Sweden where they participated in the Women’s EHF EURO 2016. However, the 2016 Olympic champions failed to reach the podium and came home disappointed.
Now focused on club affairs, Trefilov is as ambitious as ever. Kuban won all six of their qualification matches on their way to the group round, and they hope to add one more win against Alba Fehervar.
The Hungarian side, however, have their own plans. "We like challenges and are looking forward to them,” says Rita Deli who has been coaching Alba Fehervar since February 2016. In the three qualification rounds, her team did not face any big problems, comfortably eliminating Vistal Gdynia, HCM Roman and Iuventa Michalovce.
Rostov-Don (RUS) vs ERD HC (HUN)
Saturday 7 January, 17:00 hrs (local time) – live on ehfTV.com
Rostov may be leading the Russian league with a 100% record, but their European campaign so far has been unsuccessful, finishing bottom in their Women’s EHF Champions League group.
With goals set high and an excellent roster, the team will now continue in another competition - and with another coach.
A few weeks ago, the club decided to part company with Head Coach Jan Leslie, and eventually the Dane was replaced by Frederic Bougean. Under his guidance, Rostov have already won two domestic games, and now the Frenchman is looking forward to his European debut with his new club.
Rostov are among the favourites in the Women’s EHF Cup, but their first opponents in the group are also aiming high. ERD's morale has been boosted after their qualification matches where they beat the ambitious Issy Paris and then eliminated defending EHF Cup champions Dunauivaros.
Now ERD join the competitive Group C, and seek to continue their good run.
SG BBM Bietigheim (GER) vs Byasen Trondheim (NOR)
Saturday 7 January, 19:00 hrs (local time)
2016 was a good year for Bietigheim. They currently occupy the leading position in the German Bundesliga, and had no problems in reaching the group phase of the Women’s EHF Cup.
In the three qualifying rounds, the team of Martin Albertsen won all six games, brushing aside Serbia's Naisa Nis, Romania's Corona Brasov and Croatia's Podravka Vegeta. Now they will face stronger opposition, yet Albertsen believes that his team will show themselves in a good light.
Byasen's coach Arne Hogdahl is optimistic, even if he openly admits that his team is an outsider in the strong Group C. Yet the Norwegian side have their trump cards - for example, left back Ida Alstad and centre back Emilie Hegh Arntzen, who recently became Women’s EHF EURO 2016 champions with Norway.
Glassverket (NOR) vs TuS Metzingen (GER)
Saturday 7 January, 16:00 hrs (local time), live on ehfTV.com
Glassverket were the only team in the Women’s EHF Champions League who did not win a single point in the group stage and it was no surprise that the Norwegian league runners-up - in their debut international group phase - were eliminated from the continental top flight.
Now, they hope to have learnt from that harsh lesson and be more successful in the Women’s EHF Cup.
Last Wednesday (4 January), the team of Geir Oustorp had a good rehearsal, narrowly beating Kristiansand (23:22) in the Norwegian league but on Saturday they face tough opponents from Metzingen, the finalists of the 2016EHF Cup and currently one of the strongest German clubs.
Currently occupying third place in the German league TuS recently set a new spectator record in Germany as they celebrated their Bundesliga victory over TV Nellingen in front of 6,157 fans.
NFH-Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub (DEN) vs Handball Club Lada (RUS)
Saturday 7 January, 15:00 hrs (local time)
The team from Denmark has successfully navigated through three qualification rounds, seeing off Lugi HF, Pogon Baltica Szczecin and Indeco Conversano. However, they are not so consistent in their domestic league where they currently sit in fifth position.
The start of 2017 could have been better for NFH as they were defeated 33:28 by Ringkøbing in the Danish league live on TV2 last Tuesday (3 January).
Despite major changes in their roster during 2016, Lada feel more confident in the Russian league with the Togliatti-based side winning nine out of 10 games to currently occupy second place behind Rostov-Don.
Lada's squad consists entirely of Russian players, and four of them - Daria Samokhina, Elizaveta Malashenko, Elena Utkina and Olympic champion Daria Dmitrieva - played for the Russian national team at the recent Women’s EHF EURO in Sweden.
In the EHF Cup, Lada are one of just two current participants - together with Randers - who have won the tournament before.
ehfTV.com will stream selected matches throughout the weekend in addition to those confirmed above. Any updated will be communicated through eurohandball.com.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / amc
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