13.03.2018 08:50

Things we know ahead of the quarter-final

We have learned a lot from the past six main round matches, but we know nothing yet as the very format of the quarter-final brings something different to the table.

What we do know: no more groups, no more calculations, no second chances. A clean slate and an equal opportunity for each of the eight best teams to make history.

The hard work in the Women’s EHF Champions League 2017/18 begins in earnest now for Vardar, Györ, Rostov, Metz, CSM, FTC, Buducnost and Midtjylland.

Here are the major talking points after the main round.

Maiden main round win sees FCM through

The fiery Danish derby saw Midtjylland go from strength to strength and take the last quarter-final berth. The match was the direct quarter-final decider in Group 1 as Nykøbing were one point ahead of hosts Midtjylland.

But everything did not seem so well for the eventual winners as the odds were on the side of the visitors from the get go.

Midtjylland were winless in the past five matches of the main round. Furthermore, mathematically, even a draw could have seen Nykøbing through, while only a win would suffice for bottom-of-the-group Midtjylland.

The hosts did everything they could to annul Nykøbing’s initial lead, but as they managed a minimal lead at half-time the game was far from over, even in the dying minutes.

To the dismay of home fans, Midtjylland’s top scorer Veronica Kristiansen was held at bay for the better part of the match. However, Louise Burgaard took charge, along with impressive off-the-bench contributions _ from the teenage left wing Emma Cecilie Friis, who netted six goals in the hosts’ 24:20 win.

Interestingly, the 18-year old Friis was born in 1999, the same year Midtjylland was founded.

Last year’s finalists top the groups

Think you might have heard this before? Of course you did. Last year’s Women’s EHF Champions League finalists Vardar and Györ have been on top of every ranking since the start of the season, and with good reasons.

They are a joy to watch, and their form has been next to impeccable. But perhaps the most impressive fact is that they have been able to maintain extremely high levels of performance throughout the 12 exhausting group matches, even in moments of injury crisis, as both team have been faced with prolonged spells without their leading stars.

Going forward, it would be hard to imagine the Women’s EHF FINAL4 without either of the two, but Vardar and Györ know the harder part begins now.

Meanwhile, Györ were able to come up big in face of adversity, having to play key group matches without the likes of Anja Althaus and Eduarda Amorim, while their leading scorer Nora Mørk is out for the season.

The Hungarian powerhouse were true to their name, putting an end to talks of low confidence and no backup, having regained the top spot in their group.

Seeing an end to their nine-match unbeaten run might be the best to have happened to Vardar so far this season.

The high-flying Macedonian side were briefly put down to earth, only for them to lick their wounds, address their weaknesses, rise and finish what they have started; with the same flair and tenacity, suggesting they might be ready for another record-breaking run.

The quarter-final pairings

Usually with our taking points, we like to save the best for last. The quarter-final pairings are known, and we are looking at some spectacular matchups, as well as old rivalries being restored.

Buducnost vs Györi Audi ETO – A true Champions League classic. Their rivalry goes on for more than a decade. The two legendary teams have met 14 times so far, and have more Champions League trophies between them (five) than all of the remaining participants combined. Despite different circumstances and ambitions in the current season, rest assured the first leg at the Moraca arena will be fuelled with passion.

FC Midtjylland vs HC Vardar – The final-round sensation will host the competition’s leading force. Interestingly, the first time two teams met was at the first Women’s EHF FINAL4 in 2014. If the upcoming quarter-final match will have any resemblance to their first encounter, when Vardar just narrowly overpowered the feisty Danes, we will be treated with a spectacle.

FTC Rail-Cargo Hungaria vs Rostov-Don – A narrow win for the Russian side and a high-scoring draw from two matches played so far promise a lot of incentives as the second best attack meets the second best defence of the competition.

CSM Bucuresti vs Metz Handball – This mouth-watering clash comes with no history attached. The two teams meet for the first time and have yet to make their mark in what just might turn out to a be an eye-catching rivalry. We are surely looking forward to it. And, did we mention the fans?

Author: Nemanja Savic / ew