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Fresh faces impress in early rounds

EHF / Adrian Costeiu

The DELO EHF Champions League 2021/22 is off to a great start and we have already had plenty of drama, a coaching change and some unexpected underdogs rising to the occasion.

We take a long look to who’s hot and who’s not, dish some impressive assists, underline the performances of certain players and also take a trip down memory lane to instill some new life in a team that wants to improve massively from the previous seasons.

Here is our early-season summary, a quick wrap-up of the EHF Champions League after the opening three rounds.

Who’s hot?

One might be able to pinpoint the only team with the maximum number of points – Györi Audi ETO KC. But we don’t like to state the obvious. So, we are going for BV Borussia 09 Dortmund. The German champions are in their second season in the European premium competition and, after a hesitating year, they look to be morphing into the real deal.

A draw against FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (25:25) in their first game was followed by wins against Buducnost Bemax (34:29) last season finalists Brest Bretagne Handball (30:27), propelling the German side to the first place in Group A after three matches.

Boasting the top goal scorer of the competition, Alina Grijseels, who scored 29 goals, is also a big plus for a team that few expected to be in this position after three rounds. And they also have the second-best attack, scoring 89 goals, nine less than Györ.

Who’s not?

Buducnost and HC Podravka Vegeta, two former EHF Champions League winners. The Montenegrin side is undergoing a vast change of generations, boasting the second-youngest team in the competition, with an average age of 21.8. But Podravka had bigger ambitions, yet are on the seventh place in the standings, with one win and two losses.

This prompted the first coaching change of the season, at the Croatian side, where Neven Hrupec, who took over this summer, was let go after only three months in charge, being replaced until further notice by his former assistant coach, Antonio Pranjic. It was followed by a heavy loss in the domestic league against rivals Lokomotiva Zagreb, 25:17, a week ago, therefore Podravka are now searching for a new coach.

Look who’s back

Yes, it’s Andrea Lekic! The popular centre back tore her Achilles tendon at the EHF EURO 2020 in December but was ready for the start of the new season. This time for RK Krim Mercator, the team she played for earlier in her illustrious career, between 2007 and 2011.

Lekic has scored nine goals, but Krim, who are still looking for their first DELO EHF FINAL4 berth, had a bumpy start of the season, conceding two losses against Sävehof and Györ before clinching their first win against Kastamonu Belediyesi GSK, 24:23.

Alongside Lekic, line player Dragana Cvijic, Slovenian back Tjasa Stanko, French back Allison Pineau and Serbian right wing Katarina Krpez-Slezak also made their comebacks to the Slovenian champions, creating a side with an old-school feeling.

Top action

Scoring a screamer from over 10 meters is surely going to attract some attention, but what about these passes? Well, for starters, you expect Stine Oftedal or Cristina Neagu to dish them, yet the amazement is still there when the goal is scored. Coordination, creativity, and courage to try something like this. It’s the three C’s that are all bundled up in a split second to create magic on the court. Chapeau, girls!

Sweet or sour: A new dawn?

Three of the four teams from the DELO EHF FINAL4 2021 are at a crossroads this season. Reigning champions Vipers Kristiansand strengthened their squad, but conceded two losses in the first three games, as did finalists Brest Bretagne Handball. Russian champions CSKA were also handed a tough loss  by Gyor (32:22), as the Hungarian side are still the only team in the competition to build a three-game winning streak.

Therefore, it is good to see new challengers for the season-ending event coming up: FTC, Team Esbjerg and Odense Håndbold have never qualified for that final showdown in Budapest. Sweet for their fans, sour for the ones whose teams are underperforming in this start of the season.

Rookies steal the show

Well, not per se. Alina Grijseels is not a rookie anymore – a sophomore for BV Borussia 09 Dortmund, yet she still has not played 20 games in the DELO EHF Champions League. She had 46 goals last season for the German champions but was the most consistent performer in the first part of the season, boasting two nine-goal outings and adding 11 goals against Buducnost. Her rise has been meteoric and a main reason for Dortmund taking the first place in group A.

A 100% rookie is just behind Grijseels in the top goal scorer standings and Dione Housheer might just be the next Dutch big thing. Housheer has just turned 22, had only played in the EHF Cup or EHF European League so far, but scored 23 times in the European premium competition in her first season with Odense. A right back to watch, right?

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