FCM claim last quarter-final ticket, Györ top the table
Saturday’s Women’s EHF Champions League action saw the final ranking in main round Group 1 fall into place, as Györ secured first with their fifth consecutive win, Rostov-Don defeated CSM Bucuresti to rank second, and FC Midtjylland won the Danish derby to book the last quarter-final spot.
CSM appeared to be the big favourites for the Champions League title this season, but the main round has not been easy for the 2015/16 winners. After the Romanian side won only one game of their last four, they dropped to third place in main round Group 1. On Saturday afternoon, CSM led for 45 minutes against Rostov-Don, but a weak finish meant they lost against the Russian side in a competitive game for the first time – and allowed their hosts to finish second on the table.
The second Group 1 clash of the day saw Györ record a decisive 34:25 victory over RK Krim Mercator – a result that knocked the Slovenian side out of the competition and left the door open for the Danish teams to fight for the place in the knock-out rounds.
In the final, crucial match, FC Midtjylland broke a seven-game winless run to record their first victory of the main round, which took them straight to fourth place in the group and set up a quarter-final battle against Vardar.
• Györ top the group, Rostov claim second, CSM finish third, FCM take last quarter-final ticket
• Stine Bredal Oftedal is Györ’s top scorer with 11 goals, as the title holders defeat Krim
• Krim fail to proceed from the main round for the fifth year in a row
• FCM win the second game in the last five clashes against NFH
Rostov-Don (RUS) vs CSM Bucuresti (ROU) 25:24 (9:12)
Something has not been working for CSM Bucuresti recently. The Romanian side lost for the first time following 38 games in the domestic league, even after recovering from a two-game winless run in the EHF Champions League last Sunday.
It looked like their problems were there to stay after the first four minutes against Rostov, as the Russian side jumped to an easy 3:0 lead. But a 5:1 partial from the CSM, who took advantage of Rostov's missed opportunities, saw the game turn on its head, with left wing Majda Mehmedovic converting goalkeeper Paula Ungureanu's brilliant passes.
CSM fired from all cylinders and their passes to the line player finally connected, so it was no surprise that the Romanian side took a 12:9 lead into half-time, while Rostov disappointed with 35 per cent shooting efficiency after 30 minutes.
Rostov's protect lead in tense final minutes
With both teams motivated in the fight for table ranking, it was Rostov who started the second part better. The Russian side took the lead after 47 minutes, 18:17, and never looked back, perfectly controlling the game to the final whistle.
With Managarova, Dembele and right back Anna Vyakhireva in superb form, Rostov maintained the lead through the last 11 minutes, recording a 25:24 win.
"It’s always difficult to play with CSM Bucuresti. We are happy to win today. In the first half we did many mistakes, but we woke up in the second half, showed a fighting spirit and proved that we can play as one team," said Rostov goalkeeper Mayssa Pessoa after the match.
The victory secured at least second place in the group for the hosts, while CSM finish third and will play the return leg quarter-final away.
Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN) vs RK Krim Mercator (SLO) 34:25 (17:12)
Both Györ and Krim needed the win, but for different reasons. While the hosts could clinch the top position in the group, Krim were in dire need as only a success would be enough to see them through to the next phase of the competition.
The Slovenian side jumped to a 3:0 lead after only four minutes, but Györ managed to quickly turn the game around thanks to improvement in their defence. Until everything clicked in offence for Györ, the guests managed to keep the hosts at bay, boasting a 5:4 lead after 11 minutes.
It was again the case of a masterful performance from Norwegian playmaker Stine Bredal Oftedal, who scored seven times in the first half, as she singlehandedly led Györ to a 17:12 lead after 30 minutes.
Title holders power to victory
The Slovenian side could not come back in the second half, with Krim cutting the gap to its lowest at four goals, 23:19, after three consecutive missed shots from the hosts. While Györ learnt from their lesson one month ago, when Nora Mørk was injured in the second half while the Hungarian side led NFH by seven goals, Krim never managed to take advantage of their full rotation.
Oftedal scored 11 times and Nycke Groot added seven goals to propel Györ to their decisive win – their fifth in a row.
The Hungarian side, who finish their main round campaign with 16 points, will face Buducnost in the quarter-final phase, while Krim are out of the competition.
FC Midtjylland (DEN) vs NFH – Nykøbing Falster Håndboldklub (DEN) 24:20 (10:9)
The math was simple for FCM: fail to win against their domestic rivals and they were out of contention for a quarter-final berth. But the hosts had only taken one victory in the last four mutual matches, while the first game in the 2017/18 main round ended in a 21:21 stalemate.
It looked as though NFH had the upper hand in this match, as they created an early 3:1 lead, while the hosts scored only once in the first nine minutes thanks to an exciting start for the visitors’ goalkeeper, Cecilie Greve.
Yet a 3:0 run from FCM took NFH by surprise, as the hosts claimed the lead for the first time in the 13th minute and never looked back in the first half. Stalwart Veronica Kristiansen was limited to only three goals from eight shots in the first 30 minutes, while right back Louise Burgaard scored five times for FCM to lead by the narrowest of margins, 10:9, with 30 minutes to go.
Friis: FCM's teenage wild card
Burgaard continued to run riot in the second half, proving unstoppable as FCM jumped to a 14:12 advantage. The pressure was once again on Swedish back Johanna Westberg to save NFH, as she scored thrice in the first 15 minutes of the second half to level the game, 15:15.
But FCM improved their defence and a 3:0 partial, with two goals scored by 18-year-old left wing Emma Cecilie Friis, saw the hosts pull ahead to an impressive 18:15 lead. Friis was unstoppable, scoring six times in the second half, with NFH were clearly not prepared to handle FCM’s wild card.
Therefore, it was no surprise that the hosts took their first win in the main round, 24:20, and with it the last berth in the quarter-finals, where they will meet Group 2 winners Vardar.