Vardar hope to extend their record winning streak
The EHF Champions League Main Round is back in action, with all three games in Group 1 scheduled to take place on Saturday.
Following their victory in the Balkan derby against Buducnost, HC Vardar further extended their lead in the group and will try to continue their six-match winning run against Metz Handball.
• Astrakhanochka and Buducnost will meet for the first time in the European club competitions; Vardar have never played Metz either
• Vardar have won six straight EHF Champions League matches, which is a record winning run in the club's history
• The Russian champions Astrakhanochka, on the other hand, have lost six straight games and have zero points
• FTC’s Danick Snelder will face her former team Thüringer HC
FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN) vs Thüringer HC (GER)
Saturday 4 February, 15:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Last week, the Hungarian side made a successful voyage to France where they managed to claim two points against Brest. Despite being down at half-time, FTC showed great determination to win, and their goalkeepers made a number of saves, which helped the team to return home with an important victory.
"We did a very good job in the second half, but this victory will be really valuable if we also get two points in the next game against THC," said the head coach of FTC Gabor Elek.
The victory in Brest allowed his team to climb up to second place in the group, but to stay there, now they need to beat the German champions.
Similar to FTC, Thüringer impressed at the start of the Main Round as they cruised past Astrakhanochka at home (34:22).
“I am totally impressed with the way my team played against the Russian champions. Our defense was the key to success,” THC head coach Herbert Müller tells the club’s official website.
And he goes on: “But now FTC and Vardar are the opponents of a different caliber, each point against these top teams would be a miracle”.
With four points, THC stay in the fifth place, yet they are behind Metz Handball only on goal difference, so the chances to progress from the group are certainly there.
The upcoming game will be special for Danick Snelder. FTC’s Dutch line player spent six seasons at Thüringer, from 2010 to 2016, so now she is looking forward to meeting her ex-teammates.
Astrakhanochka (RUS) vs Buducnost (MNE)
Saturday 4 February, 17:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Prior to the opening Main Round game against THC, Astrakhanochka's head coach Mikhail Seregin claimed that his team were going to fight for a quarter-final berth.
However, the match in Germany showed that it would be an extremely difficult task for the Russian champions who basically had no chances in Nordhausen and clearly lost 34:22.
It is obviously tough for the EHF Champions League debutant Astrakhanochka to compete at such a high level. However, some of their young players have been presenting themselves in a good light - and Karina Sabirova is the first in this line.
The 18-year-old talent again was her team's top scorer against Thüringer, this time scoring nine goals. Overall, Sabirova has already found the net 51 times in the competition and is currently second-placed in the top scorer's list behind Larvik's Linn-Kristin Korin Regelhuth (52).
The leading scorer for Buducnost Katarina Bulatovic is just 14th in this chart with 34 goals, yet the Podgorica-based team can rely on a number of other players in attack.
But not of them are fit. Last weekend, the Montenegro side had to perform without the injured Milena Raicevic, Durdina Malovic and Biljana Novovic. Moreover, Bulatovic herself had a poor game, scoring just once, and Buducnost suffered a home defeat in the Balkan derby against Vardar.
However, their head coach Dragan Adzic stays optimistic. "I believe that we are on the right track, even if it's hard to say so after a home defeat. I'm sure that we will grow as a team from match to match, and our wish is to be among the top two teams in the group," he said.
Now Buducnost are third-placed with six points, yet they count on getting two more in Astrakhan where Adzic's team certainly have good chances to win.
HC Vardar (MKD) vs Metz Handball (FRA)
Saturday 4 February, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com
The victory against Buducnost at the start of the Main Round was a record one for Vardar as they had never won six straight games in the continental top flight before.
The match between the two Balkan heavyweights was back and forth, but the Macedonian team had an upper hand in the closing minutes and strengthened their lead in the group.
The powerful trio of Andrea Penezic, Andrea Lekic and Alexandra Lacrabere scored 20 goals in total, and Vardar demonstrated once again that they are the among the main favourites to win the whole tournament.
Now the team from Skopje are full of confidence, and they stay fully focused before the match with Metz, which will be their first home game in 2017.
“As always in the Champions League, the match is going to be tough. Metz have a very good defense and quality players. We have to continue our work, and at home, we need to be doubly concentrated and serious,” the Vardar’s head coach David Davis said at the pre-match press conference.
The Macedonian side are definitely favourites in the upcoming game, yet they should keep in mind that Metz boasted the best defensive record in the whole group phase of the continental top flight.
Besides, the French champions were unbeaten at home until recently, but that streak came to an end last week when they lost to FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria in their opening game of the Main Round.
Now the fourth-placed Metz are on four points and ahead of their main rivals Thüringer HC only thanks to a better goal difference.