QUARTER-FINAL PREVIEW: Eight clubs feature in a promising first knockout round of the Women's EHF Cup this weekend.
Danish clubs and French coaches clash in EHF Cup
After all the excitement in the first ever group stage of the newly formatted Women's EHF Cup, the show goes on with the first leg of the quarter-finals on Saturday and Sunday.
• Four countries – France, Denmark, Germany, Russia – with two teams each feature in quarter-finals
Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA) vs Rostov-Don (RUS)
Brest started the group phase with two impressive wins against HC Leipzig and Kuban before their performances declined. They did progress to the quarter-finals but had no lucky draw with Rostov, a team widely regarded as the favourites of the competition.
"Everyone wanted to avoid this team who were going to win the Champions League. We have to double our energy in order to beat them, but even if we lose against the big team of Rostov, we will leave the tournament with dignity," Brest coach Laurent Bezeau says.
The clash will feature a duel between two French tacticians as Rostov is coached by Frederic Bougeant, who replaced Denmark's Jan Leslie in December.
Knowning Brest quite well, Bougeant is cautious in his pre-match statements.
"Brest have a number of quality players like Melinda Geiger, Allison Pineau, Cleopatre Darleux, Marie Prouvensier," he says. "We expect two difficult games, and it is very hard to win in Brest. Playing the return leg at home will give us some advantage but the first game is very important, too."
Several Rostov players suffered from injuries during the group phase but the situation has improved as Olympic champions Ekaterina Ilina and Vladlena Bobrovnikova have recovered.
With their help, Rostov won an important match in the Russian league against Kuban (31:23) on Wednesday, which certainly boosted their moral before traveling to France.
TuS Metzingen (GER) vs Nantes Loire Atlantique HB (FRA)
Last year the 'pink ladies' from Metzingen reached the EHF Cup Final in their maiden international season. Now they have gained more experience and aim to go as far as possible in the new format of the same competition.
Seven points in Group D were enough for the German side to progress to the quarter-final. Remarkably, Metzingen earned five of their seven points in away games.
The team's playmaker, Anne Loerper, sits in fourth place in the EHF Cup scoring charts with 40 goals. But she is the top scorer among players who are still in the competition as Katarina Krpez Slzak (ERD HC), Angie Birgit Geschke (VfL Oldenburg) and Elena Gjeorgjievska (Alba Fehervar KC) have all been eliminated with their teams.
Now Metzingen are set to play Nantes, which looked quite impressive in the group stage. Their only defeat, at home against last-placed Oldenburg, was probably just a result of complacency.
Otherwise Nantes did well, and they boasted a good attack. Their 186 goals was the second best result (after NFH) in the whole group stage.
"For our second EHF Cup participation, it's a huge pride to take part in the quarter-finals," Nantes coach Jan Basny says. "But we know it's going be tough against last year's finalist. If we are within three or four goals after the first leg, then everything will be possible."
Basny also calls it “a pleasure” to meet up again with goalkeeper Wendy Obein, who played for Nantes between 2010 and 2015.
Randers HK (DEN) vs NFH-Nykobing Falster Handbold (DEN)
The Danish derby is one of the highlights of the EHF Cup Quarter-finals - and both teams seem quite happy with the draw.
Randers and NFH know each other well and they do not have to travel far. These are the main positives mentioned by players and coaches.
"Meeting another Danish team means that we have better knowledge about our opponent than when we meet a foreign team. I see this as an advantage," Randers player Mia Hojlund tells eurohandball.com.
While NFH finished first in Group D, they actually earned fewer points (seven) than Group A runners-up Randers (nine). However, Nykobing boast the best scoring record in the whole EHF Cup Group Phase with 194 goals, an average of 32,3 per game.
They met three times in the domestic league in Denmark this season, with each side winning once, and a draw. But while NFH currently sit in third, Randers are only in eighth.
The derby is special for NFH coach Niels Agesen, who will take over at Randers next season. However, he tries to downplay this factor before the quarter-final.
"I have not given that a lot of thought yet. My focus is entirely on Nykobing now, and on finishing this season as well as possible. I can start thinking about Randers after July 1," Agesen says.
SG BBM Bietigheim (GER) vs Kuban (RUS)
Still boasting a perfect record in the German Bundesliga, Bietigheim struggled in the EHF Cup Group Phase. With just two points from their first four games in the competitive Group C, they needed an excellent finish to snatch a quarter-final berth.
After losing twice to Rostov-Don in the group phase, Bietigheim are now going to meet another Russian side, Kuban.
"Kuban are a very strong team and a really tough opponent. However, there are no weak rivals in the EHF Cup Quarter-final," Bietigheim coach Martin Albertsen says.
On the other hand, his colleague from Kuban, Evgeni Trefilov, is also wary of the opponents.
"I think that we have the most serious rival. Bietigheim are a strong German team,” says Trefilov, who is reluctant to point out whether his team are aiming to win the EHF Cup.
“We will see. For the time being, I will not declare any goals as the team are still under construction,” he says.
Kuban have two difficult away matches on their schedule this week. After losing at Rostov in the Russian league, they are determined to redeem themselves in Germany.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev / ew
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