Eight topics that shaped the group phase
The EHF European League Women 2022/23 group phase reached its end with spectacular matches in the last round. We know the four quarter-final pairings, so what are the takeaways from the 48 exciting group matches?
Goodbye group phase, hello quarter-finals!
Before the EHF European League continues on 18/19 March with its quarter-finals (Siófok KC vs Ikast Håndbold, SCM Ramnicu Valcea vs Nykøbing Falster Håndbold, Sola HK vs Thüringer HC, Neptunes de Nantes vs Bv Borussia 09 Dortmund), let’s have a look at what we have learned from the group phase.
1. Thriller last round
Ahead of round 6, seven teams were eyeing the last four spots available for the quarter-finals. Paris 92 did not have their fate in their hands as they needed Praktiker-Vác to beat Ramnicu Valcea but the Romanian side remained victorious and secured the knock-out stage alongside Thüringer HC.
Two Hungarian sides were left empty-handed on the last playing day. In a direct clash for the second spot, Motherson Mosonmagyarovari could not stop Neptunes de Nantes, the 2021 champions.
In the tightest group, DVSC Schaeffler from Debrecen were left out due to an inferior goal difference compared to Nykøbing Falster Håndbold and Sola after all three sides finished the group with eight points. Consequently, two Scandinavian teams finished first and second in group C and progressed.
2. Record-breaking crowd
In their first EHF European League Women season, BV Borussia 09 Dortmund broke a competition record. Under the motto “Alle in die Halle” (all in the hall), the German club made an effort to fill every seat in the Westfalenhalle, a legendary handball venue next to the Signal Iduna Park, home of the Dortmund football team.
The attempt was a big success: 11,112 fans witnessed Dortmund beating Siófok, making it the highest-ever attendance at a women’s club handball match in Germany – and the biggest crowd in EHF European League Women history.
3. Can someone stop Ikast (again)?
For the third straight season, Ikast finished the group phase atop of their respective group and for the second consecutive time with six wins. The Danish side proved to be a powerhouse of the EHF European League Women with 22 wins from 26 matches in three seasons. Always an EHF Finals participant, never a winner, they will give their best to change that this season.
Therefore, Ikast are on a good path to securing their third EHF Finals berth judged by the previous two seasons. However, they will have a tough task in the quarter-finals – Siófok KC. They still have a bitter taste after the semi-final match in the 2020/21 season when they were defeated by Siófok 36:34, which was, at the time, only their second defeat in the competition's history.
4. Six nations still in the race
For the first time in the EHF European League Women six nations will be represented in the quarter-finals: Denmark, Germany, France, Hungary, Romania and Norway. Among the 16 teams that started the group phase in January, seven nations were a part of it, meaning only one country has left the competition: Croatia.
For the first time, Romania will have only one representative, after having two and three in the last two seasons. Germany stepped up after not being among the top eight teams in the inaugural season and having only SG BBM Bietigheim – the eventual champions – last season, they are now represented by Thüringer HC and Dortmund.
Denmark remains the constant factor of the second-tier competition, being part of the knockout stage every season in the last 15 years. Ikast and Nykøbing will try to make it a step further by being the first two from the same country at the EHF Finals.
5. Race for the top scorer title
Csenge Kuczora finished the group phase as the competition's leading scorer with 46 goals. But her team, Praktiker-Vác, got eliminated so the race for the top scorer title is wide open. Next up are Iryna Glibko, Nathalie Hagman, Asma Elghaoui, and Annike Lott.
Valcea's have two representatives: left back Glibko has 44 goals and line player Elghaoui netted 41 times. Nantes right wing Hagman scored 43 and Thüringer HC's left back Lott stands at 41.
6. Dominant attack and defence
The 16 clubs have broken the record for the number of goals scored in the group phase: first 2,304 goals in 2020/21, then 2,676 goals in 2021/22, now 2,690 goals for an average of 56,04 goals per game.
The most efficient sides were Ikast (189), Thüringer HC (188) and Ramnicu Valcea (183). ES Besancon Feminin recorded the group phase's biggest victory, beating Molde Elite 41:29.
Talking about defence, Ikast turned out to be the best defence of the competition with only 147 goals conceded (24.5 goals per game on average). Their quarter-final opponents Siófok follow with 149, or 24.83 goals on average.
There is no good defence without a good goalkeeper: the top five goalkeepers of the group phase and their teams have qualified for the knock-out stage and all five have above 35 per cent save efficiency.
Ikast's Jessica Ryde leads the way with the best save efficiency (38.28 per cent); Thüringer HC's Irma Schjött follows with 36.36 per cent. Rinka Duijndam from Sola saved the biggest number of shots: 75. Among those five are also Yara Ten Holte and Cecilie Greve.
7. Familiar foes
Three teams that competed at the inaugural EHF Final 2021 have made their way to the quarter-finals again two years later: Ikast, Siófok and Nantes. However, there is no possibility for the trio to meet again in the season pinnacle in Graz, since the quarter-finals pit Ikast and Siófok against each other. It will be their first encounter after the semi-finals in 2021.
For the second straight season we will have Romania versus Denmark and France versus Germany in the quarter-finals. The EHF Champions League 2010 finalists Ramnicu Valcea will face Nykøbing. Last season, the Romanian side was eliminated by another Danish club, Ikast.
EHF Finals 2021 winners Nantes meet Dortmund, after Besancon were stopped last season by Bietigheim.
8. A long way from the first qualification round
Three teams among the eight quarter-finalists started their EHF European League Women journey in October 2022 – in qualification round 2.
Debutants Nykøbing had to play two matches against Yalikavaksport Club and two against EHF Finals 2022 participants Viborg to reach their first group stage.
Women's EHF Cup 2018/19 winners Siófok eliminated MKS FunFloor Lublin and CS Magura Cisnadie.
And Thüringer HC started with an exciting clash against Chambray Touraine Handball and sealed their group phase berth against IK Sävehof.
Pictures courtesy of Wolfgang Stummbillig and Frederik Dahl, Hamistolen