TALKING POINTS: There were no big surprises in Round 3 of the Women’s EHF Champions League Main Round, but some interesting patterns have emerged, including a tough battle for the top goal scorer award
Five conclusions after the favourites swept their opponents
Only three quarter-finals berths are up for grabs after this round, with Györi Audi ETO KC, CSM CSM Bucuresti, Metz Handball, Buducnost and Rostov-Don already sure of progression to the next phase of the Women’s EHF Champions League.
Looking away from the quarter-final race, there is plenty to discuss: the two young players responsible for FTC’s comeback in the main round, Rostov learning to deal with the notable absence of Anna Vyakhireva, and the interesting challenge for the top goal scorer award, with several players involved in the fight.
Five quarter-finals berths already secured
After the third lot of main round matches, five of the eight quarter-finals berths are secured. Györ had booked their place last week, while Rostov-Don, Metz Handball, Buducnost and CSM Bucuresti won their games this weekend and are now sure to progress to the next phase.
All five teams also reached the quarter-final phase last season. Györ and Buducnost are the only teams to have reached this stage of the competition four times in a row, after the change of format introduced in the 2014/15 season.
Three other spots are up for grabs. Vipers Kristiansand and FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria are in a strong position to secure their own berths in two weeks’ time in Group 2, while Group 1 is tangled.
The last qualifying place will see a three-way fight, with Odense (four points), Kobenhavn (four points) and Brest (two points) all gunning for it. Brest will host Odense in the next round, while the all-Danish meeting will see Kobenhavn travel to Odense in the next to last round.
The 32.8 per cent leader for CSM
There have been outbursts like Nerea Pena’s 14-goal outing against Thüringer and Aniko Kovacsics’ 15-goal game against Bietigheim, but no player managed to connect two consecutive 10-goal games until Jovanka Radicevic did so this weekend. The Montenegrin right wing, who will rejoin Buducnost in the summer, is playing classic handball and helping CSM back on their feet after a slew of injuries that saw the Romanian team depleted.
Radicevic scored 10 goals against Krim in the last round but did not stop there. The 32-year-old wing, who featured in the Champions League All-Star team in 2013/14 and 2015/16, scored 13 goals in the 38:30 win against Thüringer.
Therefore, of CSM’s 70 goals scored in the past two games, Radicevic was responsible for 23 – 32.8 per cent – making her the leader that the Romanian side so badly needed on the court.
Vyakhireva-less Rostov stay strong
Rostov received a devastating blow last week, when Anna Vyakhireva elected to undergo a season-ending surgery to repair her injured elbow. The EHF EURO 2018 MVP scored 51 goals for the Russian team this season and was a focal point of Ambros Martin’s attacking plan.
Yet Rostov were not phased and came roaring back in one of their strongest outings this season, taking a 30:26 win away against Odense. It was not the prettiest of wins, but there was tough defence when it mattered and 10 players who scored at least two goals to help the Russian powerhouse secure the quarter-final berth.
Their coach, Ambros Martin, has a reputation for overcoming injuries and making do with whatever his team can provide, as demonstrated last season, when he took Györ to the top of the podium without Nora Mørk, who was injured in the main round.
Gritty defence is Martin’s specialty, so expect to see that even more now at Rostov, especially in the game against Metz next round, when the winner of the group will likely be decided.
Klujber and Hafra running riot
Experience is key in winning trophies, but not all teams choose to follow that path. Some of them are happy to usher in exciting new players, as is the case with backs Katrin Klujber and Noemi Hafra. Certainly, FTC’s ambitions are high and playing a Women’s EHF FINAL4 in Budapest would pump up their fans, but the Hungarian side are also thinking about the future.
19-year-old Klujber and 20-year-old Hafra complete one of the most dynamic backcourts in the Women’s EHF Champions League, and they are hitting their top form in the main round of the competition.
A rookie before the start of the main round against Thüringer, Klujber has scored 21 times in the last three games, while Hafra added 13 goals in FTC’s three-game unbeaten streak. If their form remains the same, FTC could hamper some of the big guns in their way.
A tough battle for the top scorer title
You probably will not find a player who will take the top scorer title over the Women’s EHF Champions League trophy, yet top scorers are always a fan favourite. Cristina Neagu (twice), Andrea Kobetic (twice), and Isabelle Gullden were the winners of the top scorer award in the past four seasons. This time, the battle looks more balanced than ever.
Brest right back Ana Gros and Thüringer playmaker Iveta Luzumova top the chart after nine games, with 57 goals, but are closely followed by Vipers’ Linn Jorum Sulland and Buducnost’s Djurdjina Jaukovic, with 56. CSM playmaker Andrea Lekic is fifth with 55 goals, and FTC left back Hafra and Lekic’s teammate, Jovanka Radicevic, are also close behind, with 52.
As Gros and Luzumova have only slim chances to progress from the main round, it looks likely that the battle for this year’s top scorer crown will be between Jaukovic, Sulland, Lekic, Hafra and Radicevic. Players like Anna Vyakhireva (51 goals) and Cristina Neagu (44 goals), who would have challenged for the individual trophy, will be out all season due to injuries.
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / cg
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