By Peter Bruun
Group A – RK Krim Mercator vs Rostov-Don 31:36 (14:18)
2 x 5 minutes enough for Rostov
A relaxed Jan Leslie, sitting with his legs crossed on Rostov’s bench seconds before the start of the game illustrated the importance of the match or lack thereof quite well. The encounter was reduced to the status of a friendly test match for both teams. Rostov-Don had already won the Group, and Krim had no more chance to proceed in the tournament. Having nothing at stake was also reflected during the match, which was missing intensity, but got quite entertaining nevertheless. Coach Leslie used the opportunity trying out some alternative formations. Even though Krim was leading by one goal for most of the time, a concentrated performance in the final minutes of each half was enough for the Russian club to book a clear five-goal victory, while winning the Group without losing a single point – as the only team in the tournament, by the way.
Group A – Larvik vs HCM Baia Mare 27:22 (12:12)
One way of celebrating a comeback
There are many ways of celebrating a comeback – Nora Mørk chose a most remarkable path. She was back in Larvik’s starting line-up after having missed five matches because of an ankle injury. No less than 11 goals did the short right back score, as Larvik overcame a number of difficulties to defeat Baia Mare for a second time in the current Champions League campaign.
Before the Match
Both teams were in urgent need of points for the Champions League Main Round. Larvik had only managed to collect two and Baia Mare zero ahead of Saturday’s game in Boligmappa Arena. Aside from Nora Mørk, Larvik’s coach Tor Odvar Moen also welcomed back Amanda Kurtovic and Tine Stange. Thea Mørk and Anja Hammerseng-Edin were still sidelined along with long-term injured Alina Wojtas and Linn-Kristin Riegelhoth Koren, who is on maternity leave.
It took a while for Larvik’s players to realize that the match had actually started. Within a few minutes, Baia Mare was leading 3:0 before an impressive Larvik comeback, ending in a 7:4 lead. The rest of the first half remained an equal affair.
Baia Mare kept a narrow one-goal lead in the first minutes after the break, but when Larvik’s goalkeeper, Sandra Toft, saved three 7- meter penalties in a row, the game appeared to be turning in Larvik´s favor.
The home team capitalized on Toft´s strong performance and took their second three-goal lead in the match at 18:15. But Baia Mare came back again and drew even within minutes at 18:18. It was the last time for this evening that the game would be tied. The hosts established another two-goal lead and from then on, last season´s Champions League finalist did not look back.
Nine minutes into the second half, Sandra Toft made the most spectacular save of the day. Allison Pineau had tried to lob a 7-meter penalty shot over Toft – who simply raised her left hand and caught the ball without effort! It was the first one of a hat-trick of penalty saves from the Danish national team keeper.
Player of the Match
Considering her 11 goals on 15 attempts, it is hard to overlook Nora Mørk. The 24-year-old right-back scored from virtually all angles and positions and with the World Championship rapidly approaching, her performance must have given national coach Thorir Hergeirsson a nice Saturday night too.
Larvik doubled the number of points for the main round from two to four, while Baia Mare will attend the main round with zero points just like last year. The fact that the Romanian club reached the quarter-final last season after all, just proves that nothing is impossible! Already before this weekend, it was a fact that the Russian Champions League debutants from Rostov-Don would take a maximum of eight points with them to main round.
Group B – Thueringer HC vs Podravka Vegeta 29:19 (13:6)
The team of coach Herbert Mueller needed only 30 minutes to effectively decide the game. Away from Koprivnica, Podravka is not quite the same team, while Thueringer HC was enjoying the opposite effect in front of an enthusiastic crowd. Backed by a solid defense and goalkeeper Dinah Eckerle, the German champion continued to build the lead throughout the match without running into serious problems.
Player(s) of the Match
Two players deserve the credit – Eliza Buceschi who scored a game high eight goals and Dutch defense specialist Danick Snelder, who played her first match in the 2015/16 Champions League season. Especially, Snelder was instrumental in organizing a well-working defense that established the basis for the success of Thueringer HC.
Coach Mueller’s Conclusion
“We wanted to reach the Main Round and that’s what we achieved. I am very happy that Dani (Snelder) is back and I think our good defense work made this decisive result possible. I am glad to finish the year on a high note, the World Championship can start now – we’ll be watching the national team and we look forward to the Main Round.”
Coach Mueller extended his contract with Thueringer HC until 2018 citing the outstanding infrastructure and sensational fan support as key reasons for the settlement while Thueringer’s, Svenja Huber, substantiated her earlier decision to resign from the German national team, saying that she is missing “respect, honesty and loyalty.” The World Championship ’15 in Denmark would have been a first for the 30-year old right-winger.
Quote of the Day
“Good defense is the most important (element) in a game – defense either works and can help me a lot or not.” – Dinah Eckerle, goalkeeper Thueringer HC.
Group B – FTC Rail Cargo Handball vs Fleury Loiret Handball 36:23 (24:12)
At the end of the game, the scoreboard displayed a – surprisingly high – margin of difference in favor of the hosting team, triggering vastly different reactions. On the one side FTC’s coach Gabor Elek, who was extremely pleased – not only with the final score, but the overall performance of his squad during the first part of the season and on the other side Jean-Pierre Gontier (President of Fleury-Loiret) who did not make any attempt hiding his displeasure. He was thoroughly annoyed by the magnitude of the loss following a difficult week at home, including the premature departure of Beatrix Fernandez (joined Spanish club Bera Bera), the injury of line-player Elizabeth Chavez, a leaking roof at Fleury’s training center and the back-and-forth of re-scheduling the postponed Champions League match with Thueringer HC.
Player(s) of the Match
One could name a few but left-back Szandra Szollosi-Zacsik and her eleven goals stood out. She was simply unstoppable and her long range shots all but assured an even longer afternoon for the team of coach Frederic Bougeant.
Statistic of the Match
Two numbers sum up the game in Budapest. 16% saves for Fleury’s goalkeepers and 28 turn overs say it all. Fleury’s defense was lacking composure and energy, exposing Darly Zoqbi de Paula and Julie Foggea to a barrage of uncontested shots.
After a game to forget, Fleury still has an opportunity to collect important points that will carry over to the next phase of the 2015/16 Champions League, when Alexandrina Barbosa and Co. meet Thueringer HC in early January 2016. That leaves some time to plug the holes in Fleury’s defense formation and the roof of the training hall.
Group C – FC Midtjylland vs Györ Audi ETO KC 22:22 (12:10)
Marvelous Midtjylland! Marvelous Englert!
Before the Match
Wanted: Main Round points. Gyor needed them because of the previous defeat at home against Midtjylland, while Midtjylland only had the two points they got in Gyor. The Danish champions were handicapped by goalkeeper Sabine Englert not having been able to train for three weeks due to a back injury, while right back Louise Burgaard was bothered by a sore shoulder and left back Stine Jørgensen had been ill during the days leading up to the game.
Trading goals at the start of the match, Midtjylland soon had the upper hand, enjoying a three-goal lead, courtesy of a stellar performance by goalkeeper Sabine Englert. By and large both teams were struggling, putting points on the board and a low-scoring first half ended with a two-goal advantage for the Danes.
Midtjylland was dominating the first part of the second half, as their defense in general and Englert in particular kept Gyor from scoring. The home team saw its lead increasing to six goals (17:11) before experiencing a dramatic change.
Gyor coach Martín Ambros switched his 6-0 defense to a 5-1 formation, pushing Dutch international Yvette Broch forward. This tactical move altered the rhythm and efficiency of the Midtjylland’s attack. Gyor, in turn, benefited – Midtjylland went scoreless for more than ten minutes, while Heidi Loke & Co, slowly but surely fought their way back into the game. At 20:18 the Hungarian All-Star team was leading by two goals for the first time.
At that point, even the most optimistic Midtjylland fan in Ikast Brande Arena must have expected the match to be effectively over. However, the home team managed to come back again at 21:21 with barely a minute left to play. Only seconds later – Anita Görbicz had made successful use of a 7-meter penalty – coach Martin was looking at yet another victorious ending within a week’s time. But, left-back Stine Jørgensen thought otherwise. With three seconds on the clock, the 25-year-old Danish international benefited from a pass of Sabina Jacobsen to score the equalizer. The Danes celebrated the final goal like a win.
Considering the importance of the situation, it has to be Stine Jørgensen who left any nervousness behind, while sending the ball into the net for the 22:22 equalizer.
Player of the Match
With a saving percentage of 51 and series of crucial saves, the award goes to Sabine Englert. It was an amazing performance of the 33-year-old German in the goal of Midtjylland.
It turned out to be a brilliant tactical move, when Gyor’s coach Martín Ambros moved Yvette Broch forward to play a 5-1 defensive formation. The decision allowed Gyor to catch up with Midtjylland and take the lead deep in the second half of the game.
Coach of the Match
It was not only a clash between two excellent coaches but also two great strategic minds. Ambros Martín won the tactical battle since his adversary Helle Thomsen could not find the answer to Gyor’s 5-1 defense.
Quote of the Match No. 1
“I have the greatest respect for what my girls have done today,” said Midtjylland’s coach Helle Thomsen after the match. It is impossible not to agree with her.
Quote of the Match No. 2
“Tomori is doing filthy things, but we should not allow that to affect us,” stated Helle Thomsen during a timeout. The statement speaks for itself.
As Stine Jørgensen was brought down by an elbow check from Zsuzsanna Tomori, the Serbian referees handed a two-minutes suspension – to Jørgensen! Not necessarily the expected decision from Mr. Nikolic and Mr. Stojkovic and not the only questionable one.
Aside from getting a boost to their self-confidence in the last match before the World Championship break, Midtjylland will take three points with them to the next stage. Gyor moves on to the Main Round with five- and Vardar with four points. Next opponents: Buducnost, CSM Bucuresti and IK Sävehof.
Group C – HC Vardar vs Hypo Niederösterreich 37:25 (15:14)
Vardar’s Late Wake-Up
The match was of absolutely no importance to any of the teams involved. Still it would have been some kind of a stain on Vardar´s honor should they have lost as much as a point to Hypo. It did not happen, as the Macedonian powerhouse woke up way into the second half after being two goals down.
A convincing 2nd half race to the finish line resulted in an acceptable win for the squad from Skopje, ending the Champions League Group phase.
Group D – CSM Bucuresti vs IK Savehof 27:22 (13:9)
It was the last match of the preliminary round of the 2015/16 Champions League season for the two teams and it showed. While Bucuresti was clearly determined to win this game it needed a reminder of coach Rasmussen when he pointed out, during his first time-out, that “the ball is not moving and there is not enough pressure (on Savehof’s defense).” He replaced Bradeanu with Paula Rodrigues and things got better, not by much but good enough to build a four goal lead at half-time. The individual class of Isabelle Gullden, Line Jorgensen and Maria Fisker made the difference. While Bucuresti continued to pull away during the second half it did not come easy. An abundance of matches and long road trips had left their mark.
Player of the Match
Not a player but a coach made the difference. Kim Rasmussen continued to encourage his players to keep pushing throughout the game. Even during a late time-out in the second period when he concluded that, “we are not focused at all.” Once it was said and done he admitted that “it was not a perfect game” and “that the international break could not come handier for us.”
A super tough Main Round is awaiting CSM Bucuresti in the new year. Every opponent will be deserving of a FINAL4 appearance and handball fans can look forward to clashes with Gyor, Vardar Skopje and FC Midtjylland in 2016.
/ J. Schutz
Group D – Buducnost vs. MKS Segros Lublin 29:25 (12:13)
The good news first. Of all teams in Group D, MKS Segros Lublin was able to score the most goals against the reigning champions from Montenegro. At first sight, quite an accomplishment but when considering the circumstances prior to the last match of the round, it all appears a bit less glamorous. Coach Adzic had to do without the injured line-player and central defender Dragana Cvijic, Majda Mehmedovic, and Radmilla Petrovic and for a moment, or better said for 30 minutes it looked like the squad from Poland could capitalize on it. But Buducnost was quick to erase a one-goal half-time deficit while building a comfortable lead of by the 45th minute (23:18). Adzic began rotating his starting line-up without jeopardizing another home victory. A very strong Jessica da Silva Quintino (Lublin) was not enough to shake the pride of Podgorica.
Player(s) of the Match
Three players of Buducnost were enough to keep the efforts of Lublin in check. Following two sub-par performances, Christina Neagu was back to normal, Katarina Bulatovic played up to her (usual) high potential and left-winger Biljana Pavicevic was more than a replacement for Majda Mehmedovic.
Many of Buducnost’s players will head up north to play the World Championship in Denmark in a couple of weeks before Katarina Bulatovic & Co. will face stiff competition in the Main Round of the League Champions in 2016.
/ J. Schutz