GROUP 1 PREVIEW: FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria are the only team who have not yet dropped any points in the main round- they are looking to extend their winning streak in their match against Thüringer HC on Sunday
FTC looking for another win and a club record
Following Vardar's first loss in the current EHF Champions League season, the Macedonian side are level on points with FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria. Both teams are already through to the quarter-final -as are Buducnost- but their exact positions remain to be determined.
Metz keep a two-point advantage over Thüringer HC in their run for the fourth place, while Astrakhanochka, who had their long-awaited first victory against THC last week, have little chance to move up from bottom place.
Vardar, FTC and Buducnost have already secured their spots in the next round
FTC are on a five-game winning streak and will set a new club record in the competition if they beat THC
Buducnost are yet to win points at home in the main round
Thüringer HC (GER) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Sunday 5 March, 14:00hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
The longest trip of the season was an unfortunate one for the German champions as they came back empty-handed from Astrakhan.
"The first 20 minutes of the game were a catastrophy," said THC's head coach Herbert Müller.
After that period of time, his team were down 14:5, and they could not fully turn the game around. They ultimately missed the opportunity to level on points with the fourth-placed Metz.
That has worsened THC's chances to progress to the quarter-final, and a home defeat against FTC will mean elimination from the tournament.
So far, Müller's team have left a pretty solid impression at home in Nordhausen where they smashed Astrakhanochka by 12 goals and were close to grabbing points from the Group 1 favourite Vardar.
Nevertheless, it will be a tough match against FTC who have been in an excellent shape recently. After Vardar's loss against Buducnost, FTC remain the only side who have not dropped points in the main round.
Should they beat THC in Germany, they will set a new club record in the European top flight competition as FTC have never won more than five straight games in the tournament.
Moreover, Gábor Elek's team now get a chance to fight for the top place in the group, which will presumably give them a weaker opponent in the quarter-final. With this motivation, FTC travel to Germany as favourites, and they will do their best to live up to that status.
Metz Handball (FRA) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Sunday 5 March, 15:00hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
Last week, Metz had little chance against the in-form FTC- who were too strong for the French champions. Despite the loss, and the fact they conceded 29 goals -the highest amount of goals they have conceded in the season- the team of Emmanuel Mayonnade should not panic.
THC's defeat in Astrakhan was good news for Metz- who now need just one victory in their two remaining matches against Vardar and Astrakhanochka to secure a quarter-final spot.
However, the next game will be certainly tough for Metz as their Macedonian rivals will be looking for redemption after last week, which brought their first defeat in the current EHF Champions League season. Following eight straight wins in the competition, Vardar lost at home to Buducnost in a hard-fought Balkan derby.
Sunday was a sad day for Vardar- on the night before the game, Andrea Klikovac's father passed away, so she was not able to participate in the match.
"The whole day was difficult. When you play against a team like Buducnost, you should be 100% focused. But there is nothing horrible in our loss, we are still on the first place and have a chance to stay top of the group," says Vardar's head coach David Davis.
Buducnost (MNE) vs Astrakhanochka (RUS)
Sunday 5 March, 19:00hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
Following some disappointing results and criticism, Buducnost finally showed character and demonstrated that they are still a major force in the EHF Champions League. In Skopje, they played probably their best game of the season, full of desire and commitment, and jumped with joy after an impressive victory.
The third-placed Buducnost have already secured a spot in the next round, and they still have a chance to climb up in the table. However, it will be hard, as both group leaders Vardar and FTC are three points ahead of the Montenegrin side.
So far, Buducnost have only earned points away from home in the main round, but now they have a good chance to finally please their home crowd in Podgorica.
Astrakhanochka will definitely be underdogs in the upcoming match, even though their morale has been boosted by a home win over THC. The long-awaited victory ended their eight-game losing streak and allowed the Russian champions to claim their first points in the current competition stage.
Karina Sabirova, who scored 13 times against Thüringer, extended her lead in the EHF Champions League scoring chart. Now she has 76 goals, nine more than her closest pursuer Amanda Kurtovic from Larvik- it will be a challenge for Buducnost's defense to stop her.
TEXT: Sergey Nikolaev/kc