WOMEN´S CHAMPIONS LEAGUE MAIN ROUND – Larvik strengthened their quarter-final hopes in Group 2 winning the Scandinavian derby against FC Midtjylland after a fine comeback in the second half. CSM Bucuresti stay in the race as well after defeating Krim.
In Group 1, Vardar appears to be unstoppable, although they had some trouble at home against Metz.
FTC continue to impress, this time against Thuringer HC, while Buducnost did their duty in Russia against Astrakhanochka.
By Peter Bruun
MATCH OF THE DAY
Larvik vs FC Midtjylland 24:22 (9:11)
Before the Match
Midtjylland were in second position in the group with six points; Larvik one point behind.
A week earlier, the Danes recorded an impressive 38:26 win at home in the derby against Team Esbjerg – after being two goals down at half time, while Larvik were leading most of the time on the road against CSM Bucurest before settling for a 26:26 draw.
Larvik’s veteran, Karoline Dyhre Breivang, was back on the roster, while Midtjylland were missing Icelandic international Rut Jonsdottir because of a head injury that she suffered in the match against Esbjerg. It left Louise Burgaard as the only left-handed back court player in the Danish team. The visitors were also missing Swedish defense specialist Sabina Jacobsen once again.
Before the match, Larvik’s coach, Tor Odvar Moen, had appealed to the crowd in Boligmappa Arena to put more pressure than usual on opponents and referees and to support his team more forcefully.
To a certain extent the 1,777 spectators followed his request, but it was his own tactical skills and his players will to fight that got the job done in the end.
After trailing for some time, Larvik staged a fine comeback in the second half, and even though the match was close until the end, the home team was triumphant at last.
The low-scoring first half was as even as the half time score indicated, with Midtjylland in the driver´s seat.
The Danish visitors were leading by one or two goals all the time, never allowing the home side to be in the lead.
While Midtjylland´s left-back Stine Jørgensen – she scored 12 goals against Esbjerg a week ago – did what she could again (five goals on eight attempts), it did not change the picture of a game, ruled by defense.
It applied to Midtjylland´s right-wing, Trine Østergaard, in particular – she had scored nine goals against Esbjerg, but did not hit the back of the net in the first half at all, and only once in the whole match.
Instead, the first half turned into a contest between the goalkeepers. Sabine Englert (Midtjylland) had the upper hand against Danish international Sandra Toft (Larvik).
Larvik staged an impressive comeback with the start of the second half, changing the 9:11 deficit into their first lead at 13:11 (37th minute), coinciding with Toft stats improving rapidly.
The home team continued to cease the initiative in the minutes that followed, building their advantage (16:13). But a couple of two-minutes suspensions turned costly, and when Sabine Pedersen made it 19:20 with 10 minutes left, the visitors were ahead once again.
But a four-goal streak from Larvik decided the game. When Marit Malm Frafjord – scoring sixth goal on six attempts – made it 24:21 with 43 seconds left, the deal was sealed.
Stine Jørgensen (Midtjylland) had another outstanding performance, but her 10 goals were not enough to make the difference.
Player of the Match
With an official saving percentage of 52 in the first half, Sandra Toft kept Larvik in the game before the break, but the Danish international was even more crucial to her team’s success, in the second half and when she performed some game changing saves.
Larvik climbed into second position, but the battle for quarter-final tickets is a tough one in this group.
Gyor – they play in Esbjerg on Sunday – seem to be in a league of their own, and only two points separate Larvik and CSM Bucuresti who are in fifth position.
RK Krim Mercator vs CSM Bucuresti 21:24 (9:14)
Before the Match
Apart from missing right-back Line Jørgensen, CSM also had to do without goalkeeper Paula Ungureanu. The experienced Romanian international is sidelined for up to a month with a knee injury, putting extra responsibility on Jelena Grubisic.
A knee injury also kept Krim´s shooting star Elizabeth Omoregie off the court.
Being second to last (three points), CSM were in desperate need of a victory.
Despite a terrible start, Krim were able to create some excitement in the second half.
CSM got the win they needed so badly, but they had to fight hard towards the end – more so than they were expecting considering the first half of the match.
CSM were not intimidated by Krim´s fine statistic on home ground, and the visitors got off to a good start, as they rushed to an 11:4 lead.
Krim managed to reduce the gap a bit towards half time, but they could not change the impression of a first half, that was completely dominated by the reigning Champions League winners.
Krim continued to cut the deficit.
However, after reducing to 14:11, the home team lost the grip on the game again, and at 14:20, CSM appeared to have the upper hand for good.
Yet, Krim showed their fighting spirit, and after five straight goals, they had reduced the deficit to only one (19:20).
This was as close as it got, though, and in the end, CSM could record a deserved three-goal victory.
CSM are still in the race for the quarter-finals, still being fifth, but only one point behind Krim and FC Midtjylland.
Krim coming back after a poor start, allows for some optimism. Currently, they are still in a position to reach the next phase of the competition.
FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria vs Thuringer HC 32:24 (15:10)
Before the Match
FTC were defending second position, on seven points, coming off an impressive 28:25 road win against Metz in their first main round match.
THC had boosted their quarter-final hopes through a 34:22 victory against Astrakhanochka at home.
For FTC line player, Danick Snelder, the match was a reunion with her teammates of last season.
FTC owned this match from the start, and the outcome was a long foregone conclusion.
Hungary´s “number two club” demonstrated very clearly, that their three-goal victory in France, against Metz, last Sunday was no coincidence.
THC disappointed, considering their good performance against Astrakhanochka, a week ago. But FTC is a tough opponent, especially in their own arena.
FTC or Ferencvaros – as their fans insist on calling the team – got off to the far better start, leading 5:2, 7:3 and 8:4.
Blanka Biró did a fantastic job in goal, and in attack, Zita Szucsanski, Aniko Kovavics and Nadine Schatzl performed just as good.
By the middle of the half, THC pushed back, reducing the deficit to 9:10, but that was as far as the visitors got.
Towards the end of a first half, FTC changed an 11:10 advantage into a 15:10 lead by half time.
The Lithuanian referees Viktorija Kijauskaite and Ausra Zaliene were not particularly friendly towards the German champions, and their calls provoked the temper of THC coach Herbert Müller.
Still, FTC were the better team for most of the 30 minutes.
If there was any doubt left which team would win the match, FTC removed any second thoughts right after the break.
A 15:10 lead was soon increased to 18:10 and 22:11. From then on, the only question remaining was how big the Hungarian win would become.
Blanka Bíró´s saving percentage dropped from 55 to 44, but she still played an important part in the home team´s dominating the match.
FTC were leading by 12 goals several times, before the visitors reduced the gap towards the end, while the 1,300 spectators gave us a song to the tune of “All Lang Syne”.
Player of the Match
Considering her stellar performance, especially in the first half, Blanka Bíró was the dominating figure in the match.
When you look at what she does in FTC’s goal, it is hard to imagine that she is only 22 years old. What a future, she will have.
There can be no doubt by now that FTC will make it to the quarter-finals, and right now there is no reason to expect them to stop there.
Their first two matches in the main round have shown that they are a serious threat to any team in the Champions League. FTC appear to be more consistent than they were last season, and if they can maintain their stability, they will go far.
HC Vardar vs Metz Handball 23:21 (14:11)
The match ended under the impression of a possibly serious injury of Andrea Penezic with eight minutes left.
Penezic had to be carried off the court with what looked like a damaged thigh. Her loss shocked her teammates so much, that they got close to throwing away what looked like a clear win.
At the time of Penezic´s accident, Vardar were leading 22:17. Still, Metz almost caught up, scoring the equalizer at 22:22 in the last minute. The game was not decided until eight seconds before the buzzer, when Jovanka Radicevic made it 23:21.
It is hard to win in Jane Sandanski arena – really hard.
Still, Metz were able to follow Vardar throughout the first half, and the visitors even enjoyed a series of one-goal leads.
Already before half time, however, the home team managed to get the upper hand, and in the second half Vardar continued gaining momentum.
The Macedonian club went ahead 16:11 and 20:14 before the match became exciting towards the end.
Vardar still sits on top of the group (11 points), while the battle for fourth place and last quarter-final ticket, seems to be decided between Metz and Thuringer HC.
Astrakhanochka vs Buducnost 21:34 (9:18)
Katarina Bulatovic put her unfortunate performance of last weekend behind.
When Buducnost lost 28:31 at home against Vardar, Bulatovic only scored once, but this Saturday afternoon in Russia, the experienced Montenegrin right-back was on fire.
Seven goals on 10 attempts read her score sheet, as her team ran over the Russian champion. Still, her performance was not enough to become top scorer. Cristina Neagu took the honors with eight goals of her own.
Buducnost were leading from the start, and it did not take them long to build a five goal lead (10:5).
This advantage increased to nine goals after 30 minutes and 16 in the second half, before the hosts were allowed to reduce the gap somewhat.
Of course, it did not help Astrakhanochka that their star player, Karina Sabirova, received a red card for an assault on Neagu, 11 minutes into the second half.
Buducnost did that they had to do. They will not have to worry about their quarter-final berth. But their position in the main round group still matters with regards to the quality of the opponent at the next stage of the competition.
Astrakhanochka will not have to worry about a quarter-final either, but for completely different reasons. As the only team in the main round without a single point, the Russians will obviously not make it any further in the 2016/17 Champions League season.