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EHF Champions League

Three 2020/21 semi-finalists headline new power ranking

EHF / Adrian Costeiu

The new season of the DELO EHF Champions League is just around the corner, with throw-off scheduled for Saturday. Therefore, it is high time to see how your favourites line up before the start of the season, with another round of power rankings for the premium European competition.

Let’s find out who is hot and who is not.

  1. Metz Handball

Metz faced an exodus as 10 players left this summer, with the list completed by line player Olga Perederiy, who retired due to a chronic knee injury. The French side lost players in all departments but replied by bringing plenty of talent to the back line, in the form of MVP of the inaugural EHF European Finals Women Bruna De Paula. However, Metz’s depth will be the main issue, especially facing a tough group with several powerhouses ready to pounce.

  1. Brest Bretagne Handball

Few expected Brest to make it all the way to the final last season, but it was a last hurrah for coach Laurent Bezeau, right back Ana Gros and centre back Isabelle Gullden, who all left this summer. Although the French champions retained their core, making only two transfers, new coach Pablo Morel will have his work cut out to instill new life in the team.

They still have a great goalkeeping pair in Cleopatre Darleux and Sandra Toft, and some firepower in the back line with Djurdjina Jaukovic. But all in all, this looks to be a tougher season than the previous ones for Brest, who will need to replace goal machine Gros after the right back scored 135 times last season.

20210526 WCL Gyor Brest F4 SF Preview Foppa
  1. Odense Håndbold

It is the second season for coach Ulrik Kirkely, but there were plenty of changes in Odense’s roster over the summer. Losing centre back Nycke Groot and goalkeeper Tess Wester was definitely a big blow, while their back line suffered other losses after Anne Cecilie de la Cour retired and Angelica Wallen moved to IK Sävehof. Three Dutch players were ushered in, with their connection to Lois Abbingh seen as important.

Odense’s start in the Danish league was positive — a 34:21 win against Silkeborg — but the real tests will be in the premium European competition.

  1. CSM Bucuresti

CSM would have placed higher in the rankings were it not for their first official games in the Romanian Cup. Wins against Kim Rasmussen’s Gloria Bistrita, Morten Soubak’s HC Dunarea Braila and Rapid Bucuresti, a team coached by the Spanish women’s national team coach Carlos Viver, were great results. However, dropping the final against SCM Gloria Buzau, 29:35, underlined the lack of consistency that has plagued the Romanian side throughout the last seasons.

Their summer transfers did not address all the issues, which will likely hamper CSM in 2021/22. If injuries mount, like they did in the past season, Adrian Vasile’s side will surely feel the pressure despite boasting a world-class leader like Cristina Neagu. In short, CSM do not look like they have learnt from their past woes.

  1. Krim Mercator Ljubljana

Krim have not been in the top four teams in Europe since the 2012/13 season, when they lost the semi-final against Larvik HK. They were close to reaching the quarter-finals last season but conceded a 47:46 aggregate loss against CSKA in the play-offs. Their lack of experience really hampered their progression, but Krim addressed exactly the issues that plagued them on the transfer market this summer.

Stellar transfers like backs Andrea Lekic, Allison Pinea and Tjasa Stanko will bring a new look into the side, as well as line player Dragana Cvijic and right wing Katarina Krpez-Slezak. The goalkeeping duo of Jovana Risovic and Barbara Arenhart is definitely a top one, therefore Krim have updated their status to a contending side this season.

20210124 Team Esbjerg RK Krim Mercator Oceane Sercien Ugolin
  1. FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria

With their eyes firmly set on their first DELO EHF FINAL4 berth, FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria will be hoping to emulate last season’s antics, when they won the domestic league. FTC lost Noemi Hafra and Nadine Schatzl, who left to archrivals Györ, but brought in experienced backs Szandra Zacsik and Itana Grbic.

FTC will need more consistency, which was an area that definitely troubled them in the past seasons, but the first outings were positive. They secured a win in a friendly tournament in Romania, defeating CSM Bucuresti (32:30), CS Minaur Baia Mare (35:26) and DVSC-Schaeffer, 28:26.

  1. Rostov-Don

One of the most successful teams in the past seasons, Rostov-Don have always come short of the big prize, finishing fourth in the 2017/18 season and second in 2018/19. They had their eyes set on the DELO EHF FINAL4 last spring, only to lose the quarter-final double-header against Vipers, played at home.

Over the summer Rostov dipped their toes into the transfer market, helping their defence with the addition of Györ pair Eduarda Amorim and Beatrice Edwige, only for a huge blow to come after the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games. Anna Vyakhireva, who was the team’s top scorer in the past four seasons and the All-Star right back of the DELO EHF Champions League in 2019 and 2020, announced a break in her career. How Vyakhireva is replaced will shape up Rostov’s season, and Per Johansson’s task is huge.

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  1. CSKA

After a successful first season in the DELO EHF Champions League, will CSKA suffer ‘second season syndrome’, where opponents know what to expect? The Russian powerhouse, who were crowned champions last season in the domestic league, moved swiftly on the transfer market and recruited the top scorer of 2020/21, Slovenian right back Ana Gros. Gros scored more than 70 goals in the competition in six of the last seven seasons.

Hiring a young but aspiring coach in Florentin Pera was a gamble and it remains to be seen if a Romanian coach will adapt well with a Russian side. They also lost two centre backs — Daria Dmitrieva and Natalia Chigirinova. Dmitrieva retired temporarily, while Chigirinova took some time due to pregnancy.

Nevertheless, CSKA started the season strong, with a clear win against Astrakhanochka, 28:23.

  1. Vipers Kristiansand

The reigning champions provided one of the biggest surprises in the history of the premium European competition when they won the 2020/21 trophy despite playing only two games on their home court in the entire season. Will they repeat the feat this time around?

A tough one, yet this is one of the most experienced teams in the competition. Losing players like the MVP of the DELO EHF FINAL4 2021 Henny Reistad, Emilie Hegh Arntzen and Malin Aune will surely affect them one way or another, especially chemistry-wise.

However, plenty of experienced players with a high number of Champions League seasons behind them have been signed by Vipers. Backs Nerea Pena and Isabelle Gullden will be crucial, yet exactly how much time they will need to adapt could be an issue. Left back Marketa Jerabkova and line player Ana Debelic were also good transfers, therefore Vipers are one of the teams to beat this season once again, albeit with a more international flavor.

  1. Györi Audi ETO KC

It was an unusually busy summer on the transfer market for Györ, who signed seven new players while releasing another eight. Plenty of experience was lost after stalwart Anita Görbicz retired and Eduarda Amorim left for Rostov-Don, while the defence took a blow after line player Beatrice Edwige was also signed by Rostov. What Györ bring to the table, however, is the best line player duo in the competition, with Crina Pintea and Linn Blohm boasting plenty of strength and firepower on both sides of the ball.

The back line was also reinforced, with Noemi Hafra and Korean right back Eun Hee Ryu, but the biggest development was the comeback of coaching ace Ambros Martin. Sure, the Spanish mastermind was on the bench in the last DELO EHF FINAL4, where the Hungarian powerhouse lost the semi-final at the event for the first time, but Martin had little time to develop the side and instill his tactics. With a summer-long preparation, Györ should be ready and a force to be reckoned with.

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