Fighting words from Russia’s underdogs Kuban
“20 years ago, we last played in a European Cup final. Isn't it time to repeat?”
Fighting words from captain Yana Savinova, which encapsulate the spirit of Russian side Kuban.
“We will play to win every game. We are not afraid of anyone, and we will fight for the honour of the club in every match, trying to go as far as possible,” Savinova says.
Despite the determination to go deep in the EHF European League Women, the Krasnodar club have been also-rans in recent years, reaching the quarter-final in the EHF Cup twice in the past four seasons.
That being said, Kuban will see an opportunity to strike in group D, particularly with pre-season favourites Siófok going through a turbulent period.
The burning question - Are Kuban hitting form at the right time?
It has been a mixed bag of a season for the Krasnodar-based club so far, losing five matches in the increasingly competitive Russian league already.
However, Kuban have enjoyed a bit of a purple patch in the last month, recording four straight victories in the league, a run which only came to an end in a cup defeat to Lada. That run has put them back in the mix domestically and surely will help them as they prepare for the European League group phase.
Whether this side can emulate achievements of recent years and progress to the quarter-final remains to be seen but we will have a much better clue once they face Siófok in Saturday’s opening group game.
Seasoned pro - Victoria Zhilinskayte
After a single season with CSKA, Victoria Zhilinskayte returned to Kuban for her second spell last summer.
The left back is one of the club’s most decorated players, with world and Olympic gold medals to her name, and if she can recapture the form she displayed in the EHF Cup 2016/17 campaign, where she scored 68 goals, she will be a driving force in Kuban’s attack
Rising star - Mariia Dudina
At the age of 22 and now in her third season with Kuban, it may soon be time to consider Dudina as more than a rising star and this could be her season to show it.
Named as an all-star right wing in the Women’s 17 EHF EURO in 2015 and Youth World Championship a year later, the left-hander has since grown, both physically and as a player, and developed into a right back.
Arrivals and departures
Arrivals: Mariya Gafonova (Astrakhanochka), Elena Smirnova (Lada), Victoria Zhilinskayte (CSKA), Anastasiia Shavman (Zvezda Zvenigorod), Ekaterina Bobina (CSKA)
Departures: Victoriia Kalinina (Rostov-Don), Ekaterina Barkalova (retired), Valentina Vernigorova (retired), Julia Gariaeva (Astrakhanochka), Ekaterina Matlashova (Craiova), Yaroslava Frolova (Rostov-Don), Tatiana Zakharova (retired)
Cup Winners’ Cup:
Finalists (1): 1999/20
National league (2): 1989, 1992
National cup (1): 1988
Photo: WHC Kuban Facebook