Seven talking points after the group phase hits halfway point 

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EHF / Danijela Vekić

The EHF European League Women is on a one-week break as the group phase hits the halfway point before resuming for the weekend of 4/5 February. 1,379 goals were registered in 24 of 48 scheduled matches in the second-tier competition. There have been easy wins, thriller endings, breath-taking saves and amazing goals in a battle to book a spot for the quarter-finals. 

Unbeaten trio  

Only three teams remain unbeaten after three rounds of the EHF European league Women - Ikast Handbold, Sola HK and Thüringer HC. 

Ikast is a true powerhouse of the EHF European League. Since the introduction of the new second-tier competition, the Danish side has played in all three seasons and celebrated 19 wins out of 23 matches played. Ikast have been part of the first two editions of the EHF Finals and they are on a good way to repeating it in the 2022/23 season. Ikast won all three group B encounters with eight or more goals, having the best goal difference in the competition (+17). 

In the inaugural European League season, Ikast finished the group phase with only one defeat, against Paris 92 and then suffered both defeats at the EHF Finals. In the 2021/22 season, Ikast were unbeaten in all eight games up until the semi-finals - later champions SG BBM Bietigheim celebrated and sent them into a clash for third place, which was later won against CS Minaur Baia Mare. 

Norwegian side Sola were unassailable in their debutant 2021/22 season, winning all six group matches only to be stopped by Baia Mare in the quarter-finals rematch after drawing in the first match. Even though without their most experienced player and last season's top scorer Camilla Herrem, Sola retain the same level of performance and with three out of three, are on a good way to repeat the same success - aiming for the EHF Finals. 

The second German representative in the European League is making the most out of their second group phase appearance. Thüringer ended the 2020/21 season with only one win and the last spot in the group and failed to qualify the following season. The 2022/23 group stage came after two qualification rounds and a former EHF Champions League and EHF Cup contestant is having the best start of the season yet - three secure wins. 


Tough start 

Podravka Vegeta and Molde Elite did not have the start they wanted. The Croatian and Norwegian clubs are the only two sides of the competition without a win. 

Molde Elite are a debutant in the group stage of the competition after being eliminated from the European League in round 3 of the qualifications in the 2021/22 season. Norwegian club turned to the newcomers this season and is eager to show better performance in the second tier. 

After round 1 last-gasp defeat against BV Borussia 09 Dortmund, they could not keep up with Besancon Feminin and Siófok. With three more rounds to go, Molde hope to find much-needed impetus buoyed by the outstanding performance of Mona Obaidli. 

The Croatian side is having a tough time in the EHF European League Women just like their long-time rivals Lokomotiva had in the previous season. The former EHF Champions League team took a new path, relying mostly on Croatian players with the new head coach, Željko Babic (pictured below). 

However, their performance has still not peaked after having problems in defence against DVSC Schaeffler, Sola and Nyköbing Falster Håndbold. Having the least effective attack in the competition does not help either but the defence against Nyköbing could show the right way. 

Race for the top scorer 

The five top scorers of the EHF European League come from five different clubs: Csenge Kuczora (Praktiker-Vác), Iryna Glibko (SCM Râmnicu Vâlcea), Mona Obaidli (Molde Elite), Nathalie Hagman (Neptunes de Nantes) and Annika Lott from Thüringer (Germany). 

Glibko and Obaidli with 23 and Lott and Hagman with 24, share the same number of goals while Kuczora is the current leader and a target for all other players in the EHF European League Women with her tally on 27. 

The Hungarian centre back has been one of the best players at the Women 19 EHF EURO 2019, winning the gold medal after beating the Netherlands by 27:20. Kuczora was part of the All-star team as the best defender but in Europe's second-tier competition she is not only valuable in defence but also lead the way in the attack. 

A versatile player with nine goals per game, it’s no wonder she is considered one of the best young players. A Respect Your Talent alumni is on a good way to breaking her last season's record when her tally stood at 52. 


Attack and defence 

1,379 goals were scored in 24 group matches played in January, making an average of 57.4 goals per game. Thüringer are not only an unbeaten team but also a leader when it comes to dominant attacks. They netted 100 times making it 33.3 goals per game at 62.5% attack efficiency, overcoming Sola's record last season of 32.6 per game. 

Ikast follow with 99 goals and Besancon have 98, setting 33 and 32,6 goals per game respectively. What is interesting is that the French side has the overall best attack efficiency at 70.5% despite a three-goal defeat against Dortmund. Besancon also took the group phase's biggest victory with a 41:29 win over Molde Elite. 

Talking about defence, there is no good defence without the stellar performances of the goalkeepers. Good defence produces fast breaks, and transitions and can be crucial for the final score. Are you wondering why Sola is unbeaten? Nothing can pass Rinka Duijndam (pictured below). The Dutch goalkeeper was above 32% save efficiency in all three matches, having a total of 37.7% save efficiency with 43 saves. 

Another fellow Dutch player is among the top three - Yara Ten Holte from BV Borussia 09 Dortmund stopped 30 shots with a total of 33.3% save efficiency. Only Nykøbing’s Cecilie Greve stands in the way of Dutch double-pride with one save more (31). 

Looking at the big picture - Ikast found a perfect recipe in the defence by conceding only 70 goals, making an average of 23.3 goals per game. Next in the line are Siófok with 76 goals conceded and with 77 goals we have Paris 92 and DVSC Schaeffler. 

Balanced group(s) 

While groups B, C and D have clear group leaders, group A brings excitement to the mix. ES Besancon Feminin, Siófok and Dortmund are on four points with two wins and one defeat making each match of the utmost importance, vying for the quarter-final spots. 

A similar situation is in B and D groups but only in the battle for the second spot as all three teams, except the leaders, having two points on their account with three more matches to go where they will meet once again after exciting clashes of the first part of the group stage. 


Obaidli sisters 

If you have seen an Obaidli name in different places this season in women's handball, you don't have a double vision. Obaidli sisters are making sure we remember them. The trio played together in their hometown for Molde Elite until 2021 when Anniken joined Storhamar, giving the Obaidli sisters opportunity to be part of the EHF Champions League Women and EHF European League Women in the 2022/23 season. 

Anniken paved the way in the EHF European League in the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons, scoring a total of 62 goals. This season, she is Storhamar's top scorer in Europe's top flight, netting 66 goals. 

The oldest and the youngest sister, Sherin and Mona, share the locker room in Molde Elite. 25-year-old Mona is one of the best back players in the competition, currently sitting in third place on the top scorer list and is among the top four assists in the competition Sherin is giving her best not only in defence but also on the line the attack, and so far netted 11 times. 


Young stars 

Playing the EHF European League Women is an excellent opportunity for the upcoming stars to gain valuable experience. Among the players from 16 clubs are 15 Respect Your Talent participants. Future shining stars include the MVP of the W19 EHF EURO 2021 Blanka Kajdon. Centre back joined Siófok in the summer of 2022 from Váci and is on a good track with eight goals this season and assists. 

Right back Barbora Lancz with 18 goals at 78.3% efficiency found herself among the top ten scorers of the competition, just like 21-year-old Aurora Hatle from Fana who scored 19 times from the left back. 

Julie Scaglione showed no less in Ikast's top-outing in group B. French talent Lena Grandveau is paving her way in the rows of the 2020/21 EHF European League winner and showed what she is made of against group leaders Ikast when she netted four times. 

Finally, another Hungarian representative who caught the spotlight after the first three rounds is - Borbála Ballai. The young centre back had 14 goals scored in her maiden EHF European League Women and this season she is already at 11 after only three rounds. 

The only goalkeeper among the Respect Your Talent stars is Anna Bukovszky, learning alongside experienced Bettina Pásztor. Even though Praktiker-Vac is heading into the games with three goalkeepers, young Bukovszky capped off her best performance against Thüringer with nine saves at 39.1% save efficiency. 

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