Already on the very first match day of the Women´s Champions League did we see unexpected results. In fact, there were (big) surprises in two of the four groups – it all started with FTC scoring a point in Skopje.
By Peter Bruun
Anyone who still claims that handball, and women´s handball in particular, is predictable, was proven wrong on the first two of three match days of this season´s Women´s Champions League.
Probably not many people saw the draw as the most likely outcome in the match between Vardar and FTC or Savehof scoring a road win in Larvik or a 10 goal victory for debutants Esbjerg against Krim, for that matter.
Bulatovic stars in narrow Buducnost win
Buducnost vs Metz Handball 21:19 (11:10)
Normally, Moraca Hall in Podgorica is one of the toughest arenas for any road team to play in. It was not the case this Saturday afternoon, when there were considerably more empty seats than spectators. Actually, some of the security guys were staring at completely empty sections.
If the subdued atmosphere among the 1,800 spectators was the reason why Metz were able to be in the lead for long periods, is unknown. But the fact that Buducnost were missing Cristina Neagu obviously played a part.
In Neagu´s absence, Katarina Bulatovic had to raise her game and she certainly did. Scoring 10 goals, nearly half of all Buducnost goals in the match, she played her critical part in Buducnost’s victory.
However, Metz showed a performance indicating, that the French girls may go far in the 2016/17 Champions League season.
With Lekic out it’s tough for Vardar
HC Vardar vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria 27:27 (17:14)
Before the Match
Vardar were still missing playmaker Andrea Lekic due to injury. For the fans of the club from Skopje, it was going to be particularly interesting to see their new signings, Alexandra Lacrabere (right-back) and Camilla Herrem (left wing).
Likewise FTC’s newcomers, line player Danick Snelder and playmaker and left-wing Aniko Kovacsics drew special attention.
An offensive-foul in the dying seconds of the game and FTC hitting the post of an empty goal made sure of a dramatic finish. Despite the missed opportunity towards the end, FTC could still be content with the draw. Not many teams will take a point at Jane Sandanski arena.
I must admit, I did not expect to see Anja Althaus back on a handball court any time soon after the apparently serious knee injury she sustained in the “bronze” match against Buducnost at the FINAL4, in Budapest, back in May.
Yet, the tough German line player is back in action and scored the first goal of the 2016/17 Champions League season.
It wasn’t the only lead for the home team in the first half. The vast majority of the 4,300 spectators were pleased by watching their heroines dominating the game.
With Vardar in control, a high scoring first half ended with a three-goal lead.
The picture certainly changed in the second half. It did take FTC less than 11 minutes to catch up with Vardar´s three goal advantage, equalizing the score at 20:20.
The rest of the match was a give-and-take, and with six minutes left, FTC went ahead at 25:24. The Hungarian visitors almost ran away with both points in the dramatic seconds at the end of the game, when the Russian referees awarded an attacking foul against Vardar, and FTC had a chance for a shot from their own half into an empty Vardar goal.
Vardar with or without Andrea Lekic is a different team. We talk about it all the time, but this Friday night, it was confirmed once again. She expects to be back from her injury break in about two weeks.
Still, FTC also confirmed their potential to play a significant role in the 2016/17 Champions League season. The point they took in Macedonia may prove quite valuable down the road.
Crucial win for debutants
Astrakhanochka vs HC Leipzig 27:24 (13:9)
These two teams are destined to battle for the last main round spot in their group. The win was crucial for the Russian debutants.
No one should be fooled by the fact that Astrakhanochka are Russian champions. Together with coach Evengeni Trefilov, more than a whole team has left the club over the sumer – so any win this new squad can get, is welcomed.
Leipzig managed to keep the match close for most parts in the first half, but towards half time, Astrakhanochka created a small gap, that the visitors were never able to close.
Intimidating show by Gyor
Gyor Audi ETO KC vs FC Midtjylland 31:19 (16:7)
Gyor proved that they are indeed the intimidating team that everyone is expecting them to be – and Nora Mørk’s performance fit right in.
What Martín Ambros´ women put on display in front of 5,017 spectators, in the Audi Arena this Saturday night was impressive – but opposition was modest, at best.
Without a Stine Jørgensen at her best, Midtjylland will always run into trouble and certainly when playing against one of the better defense formations in Europe.
Eliza Buceschi did not enter the court until the last 10 minutes, when everything was long lost. Achilles tendon problems have been stated as the root cause for Buceschi´s limited time on the floor, but after her seven goals for Romania against the Netherlands last weekend, this cannot be the reason any longer. Doesn´t the coach like her, or what is the issue?
And once again, we did not see Louise Burgaard play. She has now been pausing – more or less uninterrupted – for nearly 11 months for various reasons.
Impressive start by Danish debutants
Team Esbjerg vs RK Krim Mercator 35:25 (17:11)
It is not an every day occurrence that a new Champions League participant celebrates its debut with a 10-goal win.
But that’s exactly what the Danish champions did this Saturday afternoon. Dutch internationals Laura van der Heijden and Estavana Polman led the attack and Emily Stang Sando and Filippa Idéhn performed solid goalkeeping behind a strong defense.
Of course, Krim are far from what the club used to be. This Saturday afternoon in Esbjerg, the Macedonian veteran Mirjeta Bajramoska and the right-handed, right wing player, Aneta Benko were the only one’s showing some class. Why didn’t we see more of French newcomer Laura Kamdop or the Bulgarian talent Elizabeth Omoregie?
Considering the performance of this weekend, the big question is if Krim will get any points in the 2016/17 edition of the Champions League.
Larvik forgot to play handball
Larvik vs IK Savehof 22:25 (15:11)
The loss of Nora Mørk to Gyor is felt in Larvik -no doubt about it. However, her departure can only partially explain the club’s first defeat ever to Savehof.
Larvik were also missing Anja Hammerseng-Edin and Sanna Solberg and only used Alina Wojtas in defense.
The more important reason that caused Larvik’s defeat was more simple in nature – the squad from the south of Norway stopped playing handball when they were leading 17:13, five minutes into the second half.
Larvik had been in complete control ever since a 10:8 advantage in the first half. But from then on, the host appeared to be short on physical and mental resources.
Yet, we have to praise Savehof – the squad never gave up and accepted Larvik’s invitation to get back in the game. It will be really interesting to follow Savehof in their upcoming Champions League matches. Head coach Henrik Signell has created a promising team.