Five things to look forward to in the play-offs
After a month of hiatus, the EHF Champions League Women is back. The play-offs are approaching and teams are preparing to play for quarter-final spots.
The round promises to deliver plenty of tantalising action and could set new records to go down in the history books.
Fresh faces of the play-offs
Two EHF Champions League Women debutants found their way to the play-offs. Both coming from group B, CS Rapid Bucuresti and Storhamar Handball Elite will now seek to go even further in the 2022/23 season.
The Romanian champions won the domestic title for the first time in 19 years last year and continued on the same positive path in the Champions League group phase – they were in the fight for a direct quarter-final spot until the penultimate round.
Ahead of the play-offs first leg against Krim Mercator, Rapid Bucuresti parted ways with head coach Carlos Viver and welcomed Kim Rasmussen, who led their rivals CSM Bucuresti to the Champions League title in 2016.
Storhamar finished sixth in the group and now face a Scandinavian derby against Odense Håndbold, who are in their third straight play-offs. The Norwegian club will have to do without one of their best players, Maja Jakobsen; the right back, who scored 61 goals in the 14 group stage matches, announced her second pregnancy and will be the club's biggest fan from the stands.
The race for top scorer is heating up, although the second and third top scorers, CSM’s Cristina Neagu and Vipers Kristiansand’s Markéta Jerábková, must wait until the quarter-finals to add to their tally.
Leader Henny Reistad has scored 107 goals, 7.6 goals per game on average, and Team Esbjerg’s play-off rivals Brest Bretagne Handball now need to find a solution to stop the EHF EURO 2022 MVP and top scorer.
FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria right back Katrin Klujber remains a crucial part of her side’s attack. In her fifth season with the club, she is only four goals behind third-placed Jerábková, with a high chance of leapfrogging her after two games against Buducnost.
The most interesting race is the one for the all-time top scorer. In the group phase Krim Mercator Ljubjlana’s Jovanka Radicevic broke the record for most goals scored by a single player, surpassing Anita Görbicz's 1,016 goals, and her tally now stands at 1,056. With two play-off games ahead, she has a chance to stretch even further ahead of Neagu – who, with a career total of 1,015 goals, should pass Görbicz in the quarter-finals.
We will witness new milestones in the Champions League play-offs. WHC Buducnost BEMAX were the first to reach 300 matches played in Europe's top flight and now are well on the way to breaking another record. The Montenegrin club are only 18 goals shy from becoming the first club ever to score the 8,000th goal in the competition.
Krim’s return leg of the play-offs against CS Rapid Bucuresti will be their 300th match played in the top-tier competition, putting them second behind Buducnost in this exclusive ranking.
The 2022/23 play-offs see a repeat of the 2020/21 play-offs as Esbjerg seek revenge against Brest Bretagne. In the 2020/21 season, Brest eliminated the Danish side from the competition, winning 63:54 on aggregate. Star players Nora Mørk and Henny Reistad will lead the competition's second-best attack against the French side as Esbjerg look to reverse the result this time around.
FTC played their last quarter-finals in the 2018/19 season and have tried to get back there ever since. Two seasons ago they were stopped by Buducnost, their opponents again this season. Back in 2020/21, the Montenegrin side had a decisive three-goal win in the first leg, going through with 50:48 on aggregate.
Five of the top 10 goalkeepers after the group phase are in the play-offs, meaning there will be more top-class competition among the heroes between the posts.
Buducnost's Armelle Attingré leads the way with 153 saves at 32 per cent save efficiency.
In the games between Krim and Rapid, two of the top 10 shot-stoppers face off: Barbara Arenhart and Ivana Kapitanovic are at 33.4 and 31.8 per cent save efficiency, and 137 and 119 stopped shots, respectively.
Althea Reinhardt and Eli Marie Raasok will also be on opposite sides as the first whistle will be heard at Storhamar versus Odense. Reinhardt is currently ranked seventh overall, saving 125 shots at 34.6 per cent efficiency, while Raasok sits eighth with 123 saves at 32.7 per cent.
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