Five conclusions after the European League Women quarter-finals
The inaugural season of the EHF European League Women is reaching its climax, and only the four best teams remain in the competition for the EHF Finals Women, scheduled for 8/9 May.
But what happened in the quarter-finals of the competition over the past two weekends? Do not worry, as we have you covered with our thorough round-up.
A maiden clean sweep for the qualified teams
Irrespective of the competition, home advantage in the second leg of a knockout tie is crucial. With all four sides that played at home in the second legs progressing to the EHF Finals, it was also the case in the EHF European League Women quarter-finals.
While Siófok KC played both games against Astrakhanochka at home, three teams also secured important home wins: Nantes Atlantique, CS Minaur Baia Mare and Herning-Ikast Handbold. As all four qualified teams swept their opponents, securing two wins, there were no magnificent comebacks.
It is probably rare for all four favourites to win both their games in the quarter-finals of a European competition. In fact, in the history of the Women’s EHF Cup, a clean sweep never occurred. In the 2013/14 season, three teams progressed to the semi-finals with two wins in the quarter-finals: Fehérvár KC, Astrakhanochka and HC Lada.
Group winners strong in the quarter-finals
Finishing first in the group phase is paramount to the future of any team in a European competition, which was again proven as the group winners all progressed to the inaugural EHF Finals.
After securing five wins in the group phase, Herning-Ikast had little trouble disposing of Lada, taking a 59:54 aggregate win. The Russian side only led in the first half of both games against their Danish counterparts.
Despite losing two games in the group phase, Nantes Atlantique Handball took a convincing 63:57 aggregate win against HC Zvezda, saving one of their best attacking displays of the season for when it really mattered.
After clearly defeating HC Dunarea Braila 58:49 on aggregate, CS Minaur Baia Mare are now also on seven wins and one loss this season, while Siófok KC took advantage of hosting both games against Astrakhanochka to record a 61:54 aggregate win.
Are Siófok impossible to stop?
Siófok KC, the 2018/19 Women’s EHF Cup winners, are also the favourites this season, having retained the core of the team that won the Hungarian club’s first piece of European silverware.
At the start of the season there were tumultuous times for Siófok, but after experienced coach Zdravko Zovko took over, the Hungarian team has played its part almost to perfection, conceding just three losses – all in the domestic league – in their last 20 matches.
Currently on a 17-game unbeaten streak in European competitions, including eight games in the EHF European League this season, Siófok's last loss in Europe came in the Women’s EHF Cup 2018/19 against Nantes Atlantique in qualification round 3.
With experienced key contributors like line player Katarina Jezic, back Zsuzsanna Tomori and centre back Gnonsiane Niombla, Siófok look like the team to beat this season.
Centre backs rule the EHF European League Women
24-year-old Norwegian centre back Helene Fauske looks the real deal. From engineering attacks to scoring crucial goals, Fauske has proven time and time again this season that she can do anything on court for Herning-Ikast Handbold.
After four impressive seasons at Herning-Ikast, Fauske will leave for Brest Bretagne Handball this summer, but she is still making her mark for the Danish side. She became the the competition's top scorer, with 51 goals, after netting 17 goals in the two legs against Lada.
Diminutive Brazilian centre back Bruna Almeida De Paula is in second place in the top scorer standings. Including eight goals against SCM Gloria Buzau in qualification round 3, Nantes Atlantique's centre back has scored 54 goals this season, and she has single-handedly lifted her side to the EHF Finals. De Paula will also switch clubs next summer, joining Brest's rivals: Metz Handball.
No Russian side in the EHF Finals
Only France – four – had more teams than Russia at the start of the group phase. While HC Lada, HC Zvezda and Astrakhanochka all advanced from the group phase – albeit in second place – they all paid the price for their inexperience in the quarter-finals. None of the Russian sides were truly close to springing a surprise, as the veteran players could not cover the lack of experience of other players.
Denmark, France, Hungary and Romania are represented in the last act of this season. From those four nations, only Denmark had just one team in the group phase.
Both Herning-Ikast, who won both the Women’s EHF Cup and the Women’s Cup Winners’ Cup twice, and Siofok KC, who won the Women’s EHF Cup, have already won a European trophy, while CS Minaur Baia Mare were finalists in the Women’s Challenge Cup in the 2002/03 season.