In the first matches of the Women’s EHF Champions League semifinals, Larvik and Itxako won.
Larvik HK (NOR) vs. Budućnost Podgorica (MNE) 25:20 (13:10)
Norwegian champions Larvik HK defeated Budućnost Podgorica, thanks to the marvelous saves of their goalkeeper Cecilie Leganger, and will travel to Montenegro for the return match with a 5-goal advantage.
Despite missing their goal-scoring machine, Katarina Bulatović, the Montenegrin champions gave a good showing against Larvik in the early phase of the game. Both defences looked stable and well-organized, and so the teams remained on level terms for the first 15 minutes.
Coach Tor Odvar Moen’s players couldn’t find the way to line player Heidi Løke as she was well marked by the Budućnost defence. As she was being blocked, Larvik placed the emphasis on their distance shooters Tonje Larsen and Linn Jörum Sulland, both of whom contributed important goals for an valuable lead.
The tactic to use the back players more paid off well for Larvik, as Gro Hammerseng scored more and more and the team found its pace and rhythm in the game. The opposition acted nervously and lost several balls, and yet Budućnost still remained only three goals behind at half-time.
The pace of the game increased as both sides looked more to score than to defend. On the Budućnost side it was Jovanka Radičević who played an extraordinary game, as with her fifth goal, Dragan Adžić’s team closed the gap to just one goal.
This didn’t disturb the Norwegians though, who woke up quickly and with some nice attacking game play, moved four goals in front again. Further great saves by goalkeeper Cecilie Leganger enabled Larvik to further extend the gap between the two teams to 7 goals.
With 10 minutes left to play, Budućnost needed some refreshments to stand a chance in the return match. With Ana Radović´s direct red card their chances diminished, but Budućnost once again showed great fighting spirit to come as close as 5-goals at the final whistle.
In those last 10 minutes, the home side scored only once, while Budućnost scored three times. Even so, Larvik’s head coach Moen thinks the 5-goal difference will still be enough, despite the loud, fanatical spectators in the return game.
Itxako Reyno De Navarra (ESP) vs. Audi ETO Győr (HUN) 26:21 (13:11)
After sunny days and over 30 degrees in the Aragón, Navarra region prior to the game, on match day, dark clouds gathered overhead. They seemed to forecast a stormy time for Győri AUDI ETO, as the Hungarians went on to lose clearly to Spanish Itxako in this first leg match of the semi-final.
Despite losing by five goals after 60 minutes, the Hungarians had looked the more stable team in the first half, dominating the game from the early minutes onwards, and building a clear lead that shocked the home side.
In this phase, the Győr defence looked strong and Katalin Pálinger showed heroics several times between the sticks.
With the Spaniards eventually finding the rhythm of the match, the home side turned the game and led by two goals after 30 minutes.
In the second half, Itxako cleverly followed the tactics of their coach Ambros Martín and punished every mistake of their opponents.
The Hungarians, supported by over 100 fans that had made the long journey to Estella, had massive problems against the well-working and aggressive defence of the home team. Despite devising some tactics to combat the unusual Itxako defence in their preparations, Győr didn’t have proper solutions for these situations on the day.
The away team had several clear-cut chances in the second half, but Győr’s players missed them, which caused serious problems for further attacks.
The Hungarians were without their important back player Eduarda Amorim, so her team mates had to take more responsibility in attack and defence. Except for the Romanian international Aurelia Brădeanu, who scored 7 times, not much worked for Győr.
In the defensive position, Amorim was missed greatly, as the Spaniards had no problem in finding their way to the line players.
Itxako played a focused game and remained calm right up to the end, enabling them to win the game by 5-goal difference.
Győr had a terrible phase in second half when they only scored twice in 17 minutes. Their star playmaker, Anita Görbicz, underperformed, and her replacement, the young Anikó Kovacsics, couldn’t find effective solutions to break down the strong defence of the home team, either.
“The key to victory was in our defence,” said a happy Itxako coach Ambros Martín after the match. “There is still one match to be played and we will have a tough time in Hungary, where Győr will be backed by their passionate supporters,” the coach continued.
Text: Mark Hegedus – EHF eurohandball.com