GROUP 1 REVIEW: A fantastic victory against HC Vardar helped Metz Handball to secure their spot in the EHF Champions League quarter-final.
Metz through after shocking Vardar
With one matchday to go, all Women’s EHF Champions League quarter-finalists from Group 1 are now known, but the exact positions of FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria, Vardar, Buducnost and Metz will be determined next week.
Metz highly impressed with their 42:28 victory against Vardar and the French champions are now beyond the reach of fifth-placed Thüringer HC who could only draw (29:29).
With the draw against FTC, the German’s ended the Hungarian’s five-game winning streak, denying them a club record, yet following the stalemate THC are eliminated from the tournament as well as bottom-side Astrakhanochka, who lost 38:20 against Buducnost in Montenegro.
Following a win against HC Vardar, Metz sealed their quarter-final berth
42 scored goals is a new Metz club record in the Women’s EHF Champions League
Biggest number of goals conceded by Vardar in their history in the continental top flight, and it was their biggest defeat in the competition
FTC dropped their first point in the Main Round and ended a five-match winning run
Buducnost grabbed their first home points in the Main Round
Thüringer HC (GER) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN) 29:29 (15:17)
FTC had not dropped any points in the Main Round before this game and aimed for their sixth straight victory in the Women’s EHF Champions League, which would have meant a club record but the stubborn Thüringer, who still hoped for a quarter-final spot, ended the Hungarian team’s run.
THC strong at home
Fifth-placed THC are a force to be reckoned with on home court. Group 1 leaders HC Vardar experienced it first-hand a few weeks ago, when they needed a portion of good luck to get two points from Nordhausen, and their luck with THC continued as the Germans did them a favour by restricting FTC to a single point.
FTC are now in a fight with Vardar for top place and even that single point they can feel fortunate to have.
Following a tight opening period, the visitors pulled clear to 8:5 and then 13:8 in the 20th minute, but THC improved their attack and had a 7:2 run in the next seven minutes, which allowed them to draw level.
Nevertheless, the Hungarian team had an upper hand in the remaining minutes of the half, when ex-THC player Danick Snelder and Adrienn Szarka scored two unanswered goals to take a 17:15 lead into the break.
FTC rescue a point
Early in the second half, the pendulum swung back as THC looked more focused, and following a seven-minute 5:1 run they went in front, 20:18.
Supported by a loud home crowd, the hosts were clearly inspired - goalkeeper Dinah Eckerle made several great saves, while Iveta Luzumova shone on the other side of the court, finishing the game with 12 goals.
With six minutes to go, THC established a four-goal lead (28:24). However, FTC should be credited for their character as they managed to save a point in this critical situation.
The Hungarian team converted just three of their eight penalty shots during the game, yet Aniko Kovacsics did score from seven meters 12 seconds from time to seal the final 29:29 score.
Metz Handball (FRA) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 42:28 (19:16)
Given that THC claimed a point from FTC in the early game, fourth-placed Metz knew they needed at least a draw to secure a quarter-final spot. But the French side exceeded the plan and stunned Europe by humiliating the Macedonian heavyweights.
This game was a real exploit for ‘The Dragons’ who renewed a book of club records. For the first time in their Women’s EHF Champions League history, Metz scored 42 goals and won by a 14-goal margin.
More impressively, this happened against Vardar – one of the main contenders for the European crown, who had won eight straight games in the competition before losing at home to Buducnost last week.
Visitors take control
Early in the game it looked like Vardar had learnt their lesson from the Buducnost match and there were no signs that the Skopje team would suffer their biggest defeat in the continental top flight.
The team of David Davis seized the initiative, were more efficient in attack and led 7:4 after 10 minutes. Many rivals would give up after such a start – but not Metz who enjoyed their best match of the season.
Thanks to an excellent collective performance, the team of Emmanuel Mayonnade managed to turn the game around already in the first half, although their 19:16 lead at the break looked shaky.
Yet the second half was a total disaster for Vardar who were hard to recognise and looked like a set of individuals rather than a united team.
The Skopje players seemed shocked and mishandled many balls. A porous defence saw them punished time and time again for their mistakes
Andrea Penezic netted 10 times for the visitors, but her impact was not enough. Metz’s back court shooters were just superb as Ana Gros scored 12 goals, and Xenia Smits 8.
By the 47th minute, Metz earned a double-digit lead (33:23), and they stayed hungry for goals until the final buzzer, ultimately thrashing the Macedonian heavyweights 42:28.
Buducnost (MNE) vs Astrakhanochka (RUS) 38:20 (18:11)
Unlike the two other Sunday matches in Group 1, the evening game in Podgorica ended quite predictably. Regarded as strong favourites against last-placed Astrakhanochka, Buducnost claimed a confident victory and reduced the gap separating them from the above-placed FTC and Vardar in the table.
The Montenegrin team had lost both of their previous home games in the Main Round, but the match against the Russians was a great opportunity for the team of Dragan Adzic to finally make their crowd happy.
Astrakhanochka’s morale and self-confidence had been boosted by their home victory against THC last week, and they were hoping to create a similar sensation in Montenegro, yet their quality is not on par with Buducnost and this was reflected in the final score.
The fight was tight only in the few opening minutes – after that, the hosts took control of the game and slowly but surely built on their advantage.
Sabirova below par
Women’s EHF Champions League top scorer Karina Sabirova did not play at her usual level, scoring her first, and only, goal two minutes from half-time from the penalty shot to make it 15:11 to the home side. However, Buducnost went on to score three more goals before the break and comfortably led 18:11.
Not much changed after the interval when Buducnost’s dominance was even more obvious. The match was decided long before the final whistle, and ultimately the hosts won by as many as 18 goals.
Now the third-placed Montenegrin team are two points behind FTC and one point behind Vardar, so the last match day will give them a chance to climb up in the table.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev/amc