Jeřábková to see familiar faces in maiden Match of the Week

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EHF / Adrian Costeiu

Last season, even before she had won her second EHF Champions League Women trophy, Markéta Jeřábková decided that she wanted a change of scenery and signed with Ikast Handbold, moving on from Norwegian powerhouse Vipers Kristiansand, who have delivered a hat-trick of trophies over the last three seasons in the premier European competition.

Little did Jeřábková know that her first opponent in the new season of the EHF Champions League Women would be Vipers, as the reigning champions will face the winners of the EHF European League Women in the first Match of the Week of the new season.

“Of course, when I signed, Ikast were not in the EHF Champions League, we found out in late June, but there were talks about applying for a wild card. Therefore, I made my decision to sign here before the news, but it is an excellent feeling to be back in this competition,” says the Czech left back.

Indeed, the 27-year-old has been one of the most consistent players in the top European competition in the previous two seasons, after moving to Vipers from German side Thüringer HC in 2021. After being named the MVP of the EHF FINAL4 in the 2021/22 season, Jeřábková finished her stint with Vipers as the second highest scorer last season, when she scored 118 goals.

In fact, only three players have scored more than Jeřábková’s 192-goal tally in the past two seasons in the EHF Champions League Women, with Henny Reistad leading that list, with 246 goals, followed by Cristina Neagu with 228, and Ana Gros, on 206.

The Czech back will now take on another challenge with Ikast, as the Danish side returns to the EHF Champions League for the first time in six seasons, last reaching the quarter-finals in 2017/18, under their previous name, FC Midtjylland.

“I am very happy here, of course, it has been a very good choice for me. The facilities are fantastic, everybody is ambitious, everybody wants to deliver good performances, the ambitions are also high. We are a good group and we really want to have a great season,” says Jeřábková.

Indeed, Ikast Handbold have been consistent over the last few years, albeit in the second-tier competition of the European club pyramid, reaching the EHF Finals Women in the past three seasons, with a fourth place in 2020/21, third in 2021/22 and the big trophy – the seventh European title in their history – last season.

Yet the challenge will be even tougher this time around, as luck was scarce in the draw for the group phase of the EHF Champions League Women for Ikast, which is one of the three Danish clubs ready at the start, after Team Esbjerg and Odense Handbold.

It could not have been tougher for the reigning EHF European League Women champions, as they will face three of the EHF FINAL4 participants – finalists Vipers and FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, plus Team Esbjerg, but also one of the main favourites for the trophy this year, Metz Handball, as well as strong teams Rapid Bucuresti and Krim Mercator Ljubljana.

While the first three matches in the domestic league and Danish Cup went pretty well for Ikast, with wins against Ringsted (44:23), Sønderjyske (31:21) and Horsens (37:25), the level in the EHF Champions League Women is going to be much tougher. The left back admits that the Danish league is tougher than the Norwegian, German or Hungarian ones, where she played in the past, but the level of the new challenges in Europe will be even tougher.

Especially as Jeřábková will be reunited with Vipers in the first match of the season, when the Norwegian side visits Denmark in the maiden Match of the Week.

“It is a special match, of course. I did not want to face them in the first match, so fast,” jokes Jeřábková, before moving to a more serious tone, analysing Ikast’s inaugural match in their comeback in the elite European competition.

“I know them well, of course, they are a very strong team. They have also made some serious changes in the team, they have a new coach, some new players, but they are still one of the teams to beat this season, therefore the start will be hard for us. I hope to have a good game and win the match, for an excellent debut.”

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