ROUND PREVIEW: With three victories in three matches, Nantes travel to Randers with the hope of staying invincible in a round which will go a long way to deciding the quarter-finalists
EHF Cup Quarter-final picture to become clearer in Round 4
The Women's EHF Cup Group Phase has crossed the halfway point, and the upcoming weekend will see eight matches in Round 4.
Group C hangs on a knife-edge with two teams level on points at the top, and both Group C matches (Rostov-Don vs SG BBM Bietigheim and ERD HC vs Byasen Trondheim) will be streamed live on ehfTV.
Randers HK (DEN) vs Nantes Loire Atlantique HB (FRA)
Both opponents had boasted perfect records before their clash in Nantes last Saturday, but now only the French team are invincible and they top the group with maximum points.
In the first two games, the team of Jan Basny produced a lethal attack, scoring 73 goals in total. Yet in the showdown against Randers, the key factor for Nantes' success was their solid defence. They conceded just six goals in the first half, which laid a good foundation for their victory.
Now Nantes have a great chance to advance to the quarter-final, but second-placed Randers, who are currently on four points, hope to join them in the later stages of the competition.
The Danish side created few chances in France but they hope it will be a totally different game on Sunday, as home-court advantage should make this a more even game.
IK Sävehof (SWE) vs VfL Oldenburg (GER)
Sävehof's home arena in Partille has not been a happy venue for the Swedish side so far, as they have lost against Randers and Nantes there. The Swedish side had to travel to Oldenburg to get their first points in the group phase.
Now the Scandinavian team have their last chance to earn some points at home during the group phase, which seems more likely after Sävehof's win in Germany. The visitors were losing for the most part of the match, but demonstrated strong character and turned the game around.
"I am very happy with our effort, and first of all with our morale," said the head coach Henrik Signell.
Oldenburg will feel unlucky after they let the victory slip from their hands. With zero points, the Group A outsiders have only a theoretical chance to advance from the group. Yet as long it is mathematically possible, the German outfit will continue to believe in a small miracle.
HC Leipzig (GER) vs Kuban (RUS)
Leipzig claimed just one group phase win in the Women's EHF Champions League in autumn, and that came against Russian outfit Astrakhanochka on home court. It was not enough to advance to the main round as Leipzig finished level on points with the Russian champions, who advanced due to the away-goal rule.
Now the team coached by Norman Rentsch face another Russian opponent at home, but this time it will be harder for Leipzig to grab their first points in the EHF Cup. The epidemic of injuries seems to never end and, with half of their team made up of reserve players, and a loss on Saturday would mean the German side are out of this season's EHF Cup.
Under the circumstances, Norman Rentsch was quite happy even with the 24:32 defeat in Krasnodar: "Given that we had just eight players in the squad, this result is not bad. In Leipzig, we will play harder, but Kuban will be the favourite again."
The Russian team, now second-placed in the group with four points, hope to add two more in Germany and in turn take another step towards the next round.
Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA) vs Alba Fehérvár KC (HUN)
The stalemate in Hungary last week was Brest's first dropped points in the competition. Yet the French team looked satisfied, as they were losing for much of the second half and drew level just 11 seconds from time.
The point taken in Szekesfehervar may become precious in a fight for the quarter-final spot - but now a home success against Alba Fehérvár is wanted.
"With two wins and a draw, our performance in the EHF Cup has been good. But we can confirm it only if we claim a good result in the next game," said Brest's head coach Laurent Bezeau.
Alba Fehérvár felt quite frustrated after they could not seal the victory last Sunday. The tournament's top scorer Elena Gjeorgjievska was prolific once again, scoring 12 times, yet her efforts could not secure all the points for her team.
The third-placed Hungarian team are on three points, and the match in Brest is a crucial game in deciding their chances of advancing through to the next round.
Rostov-Don (RUS) vs SG BBM Bietigheim (GER)
After a surprising setback in Trondheim, Rostov-Don had to get points away in Bietigheim last week so as not to worsen their prospects in the tournament. The Russian side earned a win - their second in the group, but the first win that head coach Frederic Bougeant got to witness in person. He was not present at their opening home game against ERD due to visa problems.
"We worked hard before the match in Bietigheim, started to correct our mistakes in defence. In future, it will be better", said Bougeant who finally obtained a visa and arrived in Russia.
Rostov still have several players out injured such as Ekaterina Ilina, Lotte Grigel and Anna Sedoykina. On Wednesday, Vladlena Bobrovnikova also got an injury in a Russian league game against AGU-ADYIF Maikop. Bougeant's team comfortably beat their opponents 33:20 and maintained their 100% record in the domestic competition.
Bietigheim also have a 100% record in the German Bundesliga, where they top the table having won all 12 games this season. However they are not so successful in the EHF Cup, currently sitting bottom of Group C with two points. Bietigheim desperately need points and will try to claim some in Rostov, but the game will be extremely tough for the German team.
ÉRD HC (HUN) vs Byasen Trondheim (NOR)
The Hungarian side can only blame themselves for what happened in Trondheim last Saturday. ÉRD were in the lead for about 40 minutes, but were unable to keep the advantage and finally lost. It was their second defeat in the group phase, so now taking revenge at home against Byasen is essential.
"We did not play well, our defense did not work the way we wanted. Now we work hard and want to improve in the next game," says Edina Szabo, the head coach of ÉRD.
Byasen are actually Group C leaders - with two victories and four points, they are ahead of Rostov-Don on goal difference. Home court advantage has been a huge factor for them, as both Rostov and ÉRD came back from Norway empty-handed. Despite being top of the group, nothing is yet decided in this competitive group and Byasen must stay mentally focused.
NFH-Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub (DEN) vs Glassverket (NOR)
Following two wins in as many rounds, NFH appeared to be the favourites before last week's game in Norway. The 25:25 draw allowed them to stay unbeaten, but the winning streak was over.
The game featured a long-awaited comeback of the Brazilian right wing Mariana Costa, whose only goal in the game was enthusiastically cheered by the local fans.
Despite dropping a point, Nykøbing top the group with five points, while Glassverket stay bottom of the quartet. However, even a draw was a breakthrough for the Norwegian side, as prior to that they had lost eight consecutive group games during this European season - six in the EHF Champions League and two in the EHF Cup.
So as they finally grabbed a point in European competition, Glassverket hope that this morale boost will help them in Denmark.
TuS Metzingen (GER) vs Handball Club Lada (RUS)
The double-header between these opponents may play a crucial role in determining the best teams of Group D, and both teams are aware of that fact.
Metzingen's 27:26 win in Russia was quite important, and improved their chances to advance from the group. The German side clearly dominated, yet their complacency during the last 10 minutes allowed Lada to nearly draw level.
This week it's Lada turn to make the almost-3,500km journey to face the German side. As always, their game in Germany will be highly dependent on Daria Dmitrieva - if the young Olympic champion is in good shape, the Russian side can beat anyone.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / ap
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