Five conclusions after a nail-biting group phase
The group phase of the first edition of the EHF European League Women brought nail-biting and exciting games, with the top eight teams progressing to the quarter-finals.
It has been, at times, a roller-coaster of emotions for many teams, with four sides learning their fates after the final whistle was blown in their groups.
Now that the quarter-finals pairings have been completed it is time to draw some conclusions before the competition resumes in the last weekend of March.
Four nations represented in the quarter-finals
Teams from nine different nations progressed to the group phase, with Russia (four teams) and France (three teams) leading the way. However, after the group phase was completed, only four nations sent teams in the knockout stages of the EHF European League Women.
Russia still has the best chance at taking the title, boasting three sides in the quarter-finals: Astrakhanochka, HC Lada and HC Zvezda. However, neither of those sides won their group, all of them finishing second and set to meet group winners in the next phase.
Both Romanian sides have progressed from their groups, but as HC Dunarea Braila failed to win their group, they will meet CS Minaur Baia Mare. Therefore, a Romanian team will definitely be in the semi-finals and go a step closer to emulating SCM Craiova’s EHF Cup win in 2018.
France, Denmark and Hungary each have a team in the quarter-finals with Nantes Atlantique HB, Herning-Ikast Handbold and Siófok KC all winning their groups and will have home advantage for the second leg of their quarter-final contests.
Only one unbeaten side
Only a single team is undefeated after the group phase, underlining the lack of predictability and the balanced nature of the competition. While CS Minaur Baia Mare and Herning-Ikast Handbold both lost one game, pre-season favourites Siófok KC have shown remarkable composure and consistency in the last two months.
An experienced side, which won the Women’s EHF Cup in the 2018/19 season, the Hungarian outfit swept their opponents in impressive fashion, dropping a single point, after a 28:28 draw against Kuban in the first round.
Siófok have embarked on a five-game winning streak, boasting an impressive attack and a strong defence, yet a balanced style throughout the first six games. With key experienced players like line player Katarina Jezic, the captain of the Croatian team that won the bronze medal at EHF EURO 2020, backs such as Tamara Horacek, Gnosiane Niombla and Zsuszanna Tomori, Siófok had no trouble in securing first place after the first five rounds and look like the team to beat having overcome early-season troubles.
Goals galore in the group phase
2204 goals were scored in the 38 games played in January in February, for a superb average of 58 goals per game, three more than the DELO EHF Champions League. The highest-scoring game of the group phase was a high-octane, full-out attack match between Thüringer HC and Storhamar Elite Handball, as the German side took a 41:36 win, their only win in the group phase this season.
With five games played in the group phase, Vaci NKSE have been the fun team to watch, averaging 64 goals per match, as their approach did not change after a nail-biting win in qualification phase 3 of the competition against Banik Most, which produced 83 goals, 42:41.
No other side has scored more than Danish outfit Herning-Ikast Handbold, with 198 goals in their six games, averaging 33 per game. CS Minaur Baia Mare followed closely behind with 32.5, while Norwegian side Storhamar also had a free-flowing attack, scoring 31.4 goals per game.
Race for the top scorer
After deciding to take a short break from the sport and leaving Györ on loan, Norwegian right back Amanda Kurtovic joined Kastamonu Belediyesi GSK and instantly hit the ground running for her former coach, Helle Thomsen, with whom she worked at CSM Bucuresti.
The 29-year old was the group phase’s top scorer, putting 46 goals past opposing goalkeepers, scoring 35.3 percent of her team’s goals in the competition. However, Kurtovic’s antics were not enough for Kastamonu, who finished fourth in their group, only one point shy of HC Lada in second place.
The battle for the top goal scorer title in this season is still up for grabs. Kurtovic is followed by Nantes’ Bruna de Paula and Siofok’s Tamara Horacek, who both scored 36 goals, while Herning-Ikast’s Helene Fauske scored 34 goals.
With Paris 92 out of contention, so are Nadia Offendal’s chances for topping the goal scorer standings. The Danish centre back had only three outings for Paris in the group phase but had the best average of goals scored per game with nine, lighting up the board in each and every game she played in.
Young players come of age in the EHF European League Women
The EHF European League Women is probably just the right place for young players to blossom on the European stage and polish their skills against tough competition.
While Herning-Ikast relied on young players, in the game against Paris 92, covering for several injuries as 16-year-old left back Julie Scaglione scored twice, while 17-year-old back Mathilde Troelsen has already three goals in three games, other players have shone.
Thüringer HC’s back Arwen Ruhl is touted to be one of the best prospects in German handball and she confirmed it with 12 goals against Storhamar in Thüringer’s only win this season, 41:36.
All-Star left back at the Women’s 19 EHF EURO 2019, Greta Kacsor, has also scored 22 goals in the group phase for Vaci NKSE, while 20-year-old Russian backs Anna Nikolaeva (20 goals) and Valeriia Kirdiasheva (25 goals) have also impressed for HC Zvezda and HC Lada respectively.