Zagreb advance to the group stage; drama in Malaga and Dortmund
HC Lokomotiva Zagreb are the first club to secure a place in the EHF European League Women group stage through the qualification round. The Croatian side took full advantage of the double-header being played at home and beat Swiss side LC Brühl Handball by five goals twice, with an aggregate score of 53:43 over both legs.
Last season's quarter-finalists, H.C. Dunarea Braila, snatched a dramatic last-second win (25:24) against BV Borussia 09 Dortmund in Germany, while Costa del Sol Malaga and Kobenhavn Handbold finished with a 29:29 draw ahead of next week’s return leg in Denmark.
- Mariia Gladun was one of Zagreb's key players against LC Brühl. The Ukrainian goalkeeper made 25 saves over both legs
- Neptunes Nantes presented an amazing attacking performance against Molde Elite, scoring 45 goals from 51 attempts, for a shot efficiency of 88 per cent
- Fanni Klára Csizmadia made 16 saves in Praktiker-Vác's home win against Kastamonu Belediyesi GSK, with a 43.2 per cent save efficiency
- Patrycja Noga was perfect with seven goals from as many attempts in MKS FunFloor Lublin's away win in Serbia; her teammates followed her lead as only one outfield player did not get on the scoresheet for the Polish club
- Anniken Obaidli displayed an excellent performance in Storhamar Handball Elite's 37:28 first leg win over H 65 Höörs HK by scoring 10 goals and adding three assists for her teammates
- Elena Serban played a key role in Braila's comeback win in Dortmund, as the goalkeeper made 15 saves and had a 40.5 per cent save efficiency
It did not take the hosts long to establish a comfortable lead at the start of the match and by the fifth minute, Praktiker-Vác had already scored four goals without conceding a single one. The Hungarian club controlled the match from start to finish and did not let their Turkish visitors even think about mounting a comeback, as their lethal attack scored 23 goals by half-time. In the second half, Kastamonu tried to keep up the pace with the hosts, but Vác were able to conserve their lead. Left back Luca Csíkos helped her teammates by scoring seven goals. In the end, the hosts celebrated a huge win and are on the right path to reach the group stage ahead of the return leg in Türkiye next week.
The Scandinavian derby delivered drama in the first half as Storhamar and Höörs played an even and very interesting opening 30 minutes with the teams going into the break just a couple of goals (18:16) apart. However, after half-time, the Norwegian club upped the tempo and gained a seven-goal lead by the 43rd minute. Additionally, the home defence and goalkeeper Olivia Lykke Nygaard restricted Höörs to just four goals scored in the third quarter, with Nygaard making 11 saves for the hosts overall. The Norwegians earned a decent nine-goal lead in the end and the Swedes have a mountain to climb on home soil next week if they are to reach the group stage.
In the first half they were really good in attack, and we were running after them. They stuck to their concept, and there is a lot of will there. They make it very difficult for us. But after the half-time talk, I think we came out as a completely new team. We get to readjust a bit and find out how to solve it, so then it goes much better.
In the first leg of the only double-header over the weekend, LC Brühl held a lead twice in the first half until the 19th minute, but Zagreb were not keen on giving up in front of their own fans. The Croatian side mounted a comeback and took a three-goal lead at half-time. Early in the second half, the Swiss club battled to keep the score close in a bid to make a comeback of their own, but Zagreb kept their opponents goalless from the 33th till the 44th minute which was key in securing a five-goal win in the end.
Less than 24 hours later, Zagreb were already up by three goals in the 14th minute. The visitors Switzerland came close to equalising twice, but unfortunately for them, the Croatian club upped the tempo and had a five-goal lead at the break. The second half had similarities to the first, but Brühl failed to get back into the match and the hosts celebrated another five-goal win to celebrate a successful weekend on home soil. Zagreb right back Kristina Dramac was the match's top scorer with eight goals to her name and nine in total over both legs.
The thrilling first half of the German derby was not for the fainthearted, as neither team led by more than a couple of goals in the opening 30 minutes. They went into the break totally even at 11:11. The second half was a different story, as the hosts looked motivated to defend the advantage of the home court in front of their own fans and when they took over the lead in the 40th minute, they didn't look back. The visitors had a difficult period from the 45th to the 54th minute when they failed to score a single goal and Bensheim/Auerbach went on a 7:0 run. Left back Lucie-Marie Kretzschmar was the star of the show by scoring 10 goals for the hosts, who have an eight-goal lead going into the return leg next week.
In a match full of turnarounds and drama, the neutral fans won as they watched a super-exciting first leg. The hosts fell behind early in the first half as Kobenhavn gained a two-goal lead in the 12th minute, but only a few minutes later they mounted a comeback, took over the two-goal lead in the 19th minute and kept it going at the break. The second half was as uncertain as the first one as both sides held a lead at some point, but Malaga were one up with three minutes to go. The visitors scored an equaliser to disappoint the home fans with seconds to go on the clock and set the final result (29:29). Experienced left back Stine Østergaard Jørgensen was the match's top scorer with seven goals, including the equaliser.
ZORK Jagodina (SRB) vs MKS FunFloor Lublin (POL) 20:36 (8:15)
The hosts went into the match after recording their first loss of the season just a few days ago and it was evident that took its toll on the squad. Even though the result was close in the opening 12 minutes, once the Polish club took over, it was a pretty one-sided match and the visitors went into the break with a seven-goal lead. The difference just kept growing in the second half and it reached a sky-high 16 goals in the end as MKS FunFloor Lublin moved ever closer to reaching the group stage ahead of the return leg on home soil. However, despite ZORK Jagodina losing, the home team had the match's top scorer with Srna Sukur scoring eight goals.
The inspired visitors caught the French club by surprise in the opening minutes of the first half, as DHK Banik Most held a three-goal lead until the 13th minute. However, the Czech club could not hold for much longer and in the 20th minute, the hosts took over the lead (8:7). Chambray Touraine continued with a devastating attacking display and they had a seven-goal lead at the break. In the second half, the hosts established full control. Goalkeeper Agathe Quiniou was at the heart of it by making 12 saves (40 per cent save efficiency) for Chambray Touraine, which helped them celebrate a huge win on home soil despite the early troubles in the match.
Last season's third-placed side, Dortmund, did not start the match in great fashion as the motivated visitors earned a two-goal lead and announced their ambitious intentions early. However, even though the Romanian club held a 12:9 lead in the 23rd minute, it was a half full of turnarounds with the result constantly changing and the hosts successfully mounted a comeback in the final minutes of the opening 30 minutes to take a one-goal lead at the break. There was plenty of continued drama in the second half as Braila made a comeback of their own and kept a narrow lead until the 47th minute, when Dortmund took over once more. Going into the final five minutes Dortmund led 24:22, but they failed to score another goal and opened the door for the visitors' comeback. Kristina Liščević equalised the result in the final minute and then, Mireya Gonzalez Alvarez beat the buzzer with a last-second goal to cap off an impressive comeback and a massive win for Braila.
In a high-scoring first half with 38 goals, the hosts were superior, although they only started to build an advantage after the 10th minute when they scored six goals in a span of just four minutes, which set the tone for the rest of the match. The French club displayed a brilliant attacking performance and took a 12-goal lead at half-time. Unfortunately for the visitors, Neptunes Nantes were not intending to stop in the second half and they were ruthless with Lena Grandveau and Tamara Horacek both scoring eight goals, while having a perfect shot ratio. Additionally, the hosts had nine players who did not miss a single shot and in the end, Neptunes Nantes celebrated a massive win in front of their own fans, which all but secures their place in the group stage, barring a miracle for Molde in the second leg.
Sola began the match determined to secure a convincing win and once they found the back of the net for the first time in the opening minute, they did not let Super Amara Bera Bera get close. By the sixth minute, Sola already had a four-goal lead (6:2) and veteran left wing Camilla Herrem had a half to remember as she scored eight goals from as many attempts to give her side a six-goal lead at the break. In the second half, the visitors narrowed the gap to only three goals in the 39th minute, but ultimately, Sola's quality performance was too strong for the Spanish club. Herrem added three goals in the second half and was the match's top scorer with by 11 goals to her name, while Super Amara travel back to Spain with a seven-goal deficit ahead of the return leg next week. However the visitors' centre back Emma Boada netted 10 goals and had a perfect shot ratio with only the brilliant Herrem scoring more.
Main photo © Antonio Mrkoci