ROUND PREVIEW: The third weekend of the Women's EHF Cup Group Phase will see six matches featured live on ehfTV.com
Showdown at the top of Group A in Nantes
The Women's EHF Cup Group Phase is now in full swing and this Saturday and Sunday features eight matches which will go a long way to discovering genuine quarter-final contenders.
So far, only two teams from France (Nantes Loire Atlantique HB and Brest Bretagne Handball) and two from Denmark (Randers HK and NFH-Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub) have won both previous group matches.
Nantes and Randers will clash on Saturday in Group A, one of six matches streamed live on ehfTV.com.
Nantes Loire Atlantique HB (FRA) vs Randers HK (DEN)
Group A’s two leaders boast a 100% record after two matches, but now at least one of them is bound to drop points as Nantes and Randers clash in France.
So far, Nantes have played only away from home in the current group phase. Yet the French side not only earned maximum points but also showed their attacking power, scoring 37 times against VfL Oldenburg and 36 against IK Sävehof. 73 goals in total is currently the best attacking record among all 16 participants of the group phase.
Randers will need to pay much attention to their defence, but have done a stellar job so far as they hold the best defensive record, conceding just 45 goals combined in the previous games against Sävehof and Oldenburg.
Despite these good results in Europe, Randers' head coach Ryan Zinglersen claims that his priority is still the Danish league. In that competition, Randers faced Ringkobing on Wednesday and won in a very tight affair - 20:19.
VfL Oldenburg (GER) vs IK Sävehof (SWE)
While fans in Nantes will witness a clash of group leaders, Oldenburg will host a battle to stay in touch. Both the host team and IK Sävehof started their group phase with two losses and now are desperate to claim their first points.
The German side had a fair chance to do it last week in Randers where they won the first half and even extended their lead after the break, but eventually lost. With Kim Birke and Isabelle Jongenelen injured, head coach Leszek Krowicki had a limited squad at his disposal to begin with and the injury to left wing Veronika Mala made matters worse in Randers.
For Sävehof, two defeats in as many games is an even bigger disappointment as the Swedish side started the season in the Women’s EHF Champions League. Moreover, they played both of their games at home, but failed to take any points from Randers and Nantes in front of their fans, meaning an away win on Sunday is a must.
Kuban (RUS) vs HC Leipzig (GER)
After beating Alba Fehérvár at home in their opening group game, Kuban had an unsuccessful voyage to France where they lost in Brest.
The Russian side were in lead for much of the first half, but committed too many fouls, which led to a number of two-minute expulsions and penalties.
"Our recent physical shape leaves much to be desired. Poor conversion of our chances was the main factor for the defeat," lamented Kuban's coach Evgeni Trefilov.
Now the Krasnodar-based team has a good opportunity to gain points. At home, they face Leipzig, a team which is a group outsider despite having started the season in Europe’s premier club competition.
In that competition, the German side travelled to Russia in October and lost against Astrakhanochka. Now, Norman Rentsch has a weakened squad due to a large number of injuries and Leipzig will need to produce something special to end a their losing streak..
Alba Fehérvár KC (HUN) vs Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA)
After two games, Alba Fehérvár have two points in their account, after losing their opening group match against Kuban and bouncing back strongly in Leipzig to comfortably earn two points there.
On Wednesday, the Hungarian team had no problems in the domestic league against Budaors, winning 32:20.
Up next is the biggest challenge of Group B to date. Brest have yet to drop a point and another victory will bring the French team a big step closer to the quarter-finals.
This is the Franch team’s first season in Europe and the head coach Laurent Bezeau is relishing the challenge.
"At the beginning, I thought that Kuban would top the group. But we need two more victories to advance to the next round, and if we get them, why not take first place?” said Bezeau.
Byasen Trondheim (NOR) vs ERD HC (HUN)
Norwegian outfit Byasen were not regarded as one of the Group C favourites, yet they are proving to be quite competitive.
Their opening group match in Bietigheim was far from perfect, conceding 39 goals and losing. Yet a week later, the Trondheim-based team caused a shock, getting the better of Rostov-Don.
Now they hope to produce another good game at home, this time against ERD.
The Hungarian team also look quite comfortable in the EHF Cup, having lost in a tight fight in Rostov, they went on to beat Bietigheim at home.
ERD’s biggest asset so far is Katarina Krpez Slezak. With 20 goals, the Serbian right wing is currently the top scorer of the whole group phase.
SG BBM Bietigheim (GER) vs Rostov-Don (RUS)
Both sides are quite ambitious and hope to reach the knockout stages, but after a good start in the group phase, they suffered defeats in Round 2.
"We clearly saw what we should work at. To beat such opponents, we need to make fewer mistakes in attack and win more duels in defence," Bietigheim's head coach Martin Albertsen said after his team lost to ERD.
Rostov also came home empty-handed from their recent European voyage. They probably counted on earning points against Byasen, but it did not go their way in Norway, so two points in Germany is even more important for the Russian team.
Alexandrina Cabral Barbosa, Rostov's left back, remains optimistic ahead of the match: "It will be a hard game, but we are on the right track. The main thing is to stay focused and play as well as we can in defence."
Handball Club Lada (RUS) vs TuS Metzingen (GER)
The 12-goal defeat in Denmark on the opening match day was quite a shock for Lada. However, they managed to pick themselves up and produced an impressive performance against another Scandinavian opponent, Glassverket.
The emphatic victory definitely improved Lada's chances of advancing to the quarter-finals, yet they still need to make some steps in the right direction.
Metzingen will not be an easy nut to crack. The German team has already won an away game in Group D, also against Glassverket. However, a week later they stumbled on home court, suffering a defeat by Nykøbing.
Wednesday’s victory over Frisch Auf! Göppingen in the Bundesliga, where Metzingen currently hold third place, put them back in winning form ahead of this pivotal encounter.
NFH-Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub (DEN) vs Glassverket (NOR)
Just like fellow Danish side Randers HK, NFH have won both of their group games, which has put them alone at the top of Group D. The team from Nykøbing have a displayed a lethal attack, scoring 35 goals against Lada and 34 against Metzingen.
This makes NFH clear favourites in the Scandinavian derby against group outsiders Glassverket. So far, the Norwegian team's European campaign this season is anything but successful. After six defeats in as many matches in the Women’s EHF Champions League, Glassverket could not alter that trend in the EHF Cup.
A defeat in Denmark will make progression to the quarter-finals incredibly difficult, so earning points is crucial for Glassverket on Sunday.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / cor
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