Ambitious Astrakhanochka back in group phase mix
Former Russian champions Astrakhanochka are excited to be back in a group stage in a European competition for the first time since they reached the EHF Champions League main round in the 2016/17 season.
Astrakhanochka's squad contains three players from the team that represented Russia at the Women's EHF EURO 2020, and the club are ambitious about their prospects in the EHF European League group phase.
- will face CS Minaur Baia Mare, Storhamar Handball Elite and Thüringer HC in group C
- qualified for the group phase after their qualification round 3 tie against Molde HK was cancelled
- signed six new players for this season
The burning question – Can Astrakhanochka live up to their lofty ambitions?
Astrakhanochka did not progress past the qualification rounds of the EHF Cup in the previous three seasons, but the addition of six new players this season has created the belief that they can compete on an even footing against some of the best teams in Europe.
“Of course, the main goal for us is to perform as successfully as possible in the debut season of the EHF European League and get through the tournament as far as possible – maybe until the EHF Finals,” said club director Gennadiy Lebedev.
With 10 wins from 12 matches in the Russian league, which includes a victory against DELO EHF Champions League participants CSKA, Astrakhanochka’s domestic form should enhance their confidence ahead of their group C campaign.
Team captain Karyna Yezhykava is aware that competing on both fronts will provide challenges in the coming months – but she is confident that the team will be prepared physically and mentally.
“We know that there will be a difficult schedule ahead, as there will be Russian championship and European games, but I think that the coaching staff will bring us in good physical and psychological shape,” said Karyna Yezhykava.
As three of Astrakhanochka’s first four matches in the group phase are scheduled to be played away, their away form may immediately prove pivotal to their hopes of progressing from group C.
In a group that arguably has no clear-cut favourite at the outset, picking up points outside Russia could set the platform for Astrakhanochka to reach the knockout stage.
It is clear, though, that the Russian side believe there is no ceiling on how far they can go in this season's EHF European League.
“Of course, we set the highest goals this season and the team's motivation is great,” said Karyna Yezhykava.
Top signing – Ana Debelic
Line player Ana Debelic has experience at both this level and in the EHF Champions League from her time at previous club HC Podravka Vegeta.
Notably, Debelic scored 35 goals in the Croatian side’s EHF Cup matches in the 2018/19 season, displaying her goalscoring prowess on the European stage for the first time.
However, as part of Croatia’s bronze medal-winning squad at the Women’s EHF EURO 2020, Debelic took her performance to another level and thanks to her 85 per cent shot efficiency, she was named as the line player in the All-star team.
Penalty specialist – Dariia Samokhina
Prolific for Lada in the EHF Cup several years ago, left wing Dariia Samokhina will get her first opportunity during her time at Astrakhanochka to repeat her scoring feats in a group phase.
Frequently used as a penalty taker for Russia in international competition, Samokhina is also first choice for Astrakhanochka and has scored 21 from 27 attempts from the seven-metre line in domestic matches this season.
A night to remember
After winning the Russian championship in 2016, Astrakhanochka made their debut appearance in the EHF Champions League in the 2016/17 season.
Astrakhanochka’s first game in group B was at home against HC Leipzig, who had an extensive record of participating in the Champions League.
In front of 3,000 spectators in Astrakhan, Astrakhanochka displayed no signs of being overwhelmed by the size of the occasion in the first half. There was little to separate the two sides until Karina Sisenova scored three goals in a four-goal run that propelled Astrakhanochka into a 13:9 lead at half-time.
As Kira Trusova's total of 18 saves thwarted Leipzig's comeback attempts, the Russian side remained in control throughout the second half and sealed a memorable 27:24 win in their first EHF Champions League match.
Newcomers and departures
Newcomers: Irina Nikitina (Rostov-Don), Iuliia Gariaeva (Kuban), Evelina Anoshkina (HC Zvezda), Yevheniia Levchenko (BNTU-Belaz), Iryna Stelmakh (BNTU-Belaz), Ana Debelic (HC Podravka Vegeta)
Departures: Anna Kochetova (Retired), Irina Antonova (HC Zvezda), Valentina Degtiareva (Stavropol), Viktoriia Shichkina (Stavropol), Sofiia Ignatovich (Stavropol), Irina Kurushina (Stavropol), Maria Gafonova (Kuban), Daria Bogdanova (AGU-ADYIF Maykop), Galina Izmailova (AGU-ADYIF Maykop), Svetlana Kremneva (BNTU-Belaz)
EHF Champions League:
Main round (1): 2016/17
Cup Winners’ Cup:
Quarter-finals (1): 2006/07
Round 3 (1): 2007/08
Semi-finals (1): 2013/14
Quarter-finals (3): 2012/13, 2014/15, 2015/16
Last 16 (2): 2003/04, 2011/12
Round 3 (1): 2004/05
Round 2 (1): 2005/06
Qualification round 3 (2): 2017/18, 2019/20
Qualification round 2 (1): 2018/19
Russian league: 1 title (2015/16)
Russian cup: 0 titles