Womens Euro League,
Four nations with doubled hopes
The first leg of the womens Euro League quarter-finals will see double clashes of respective nations: Spain v Hungary in two matches and Greece v Russia in the other two. Four former winners and four clubs without any silverware from the past are aiming high this spring.
Interestingly, ruler nation of the European womens club competition, Italy doesnt have a single representative in the best eight. Last season marked the first occasion since 1992 that no Italian side reached the Final Four in the Euro League (former Champions Cup) but there were two among the losing quarter-finalists and later Imperia and Padova clashed in the LEN Trophy final. But this season wont see any Italian triumph among the women which might be painful for the nation which can be proud of 9 triumphs apiece in the two competitions.
The other giant, the Netherlands is also missing from the show this season (Dutch clubs won the most prestigious competition 7 times). Still, most of the teams making the quarters this year belong to the heavy-weight category: four of them appear on the list of the former winners.
In the first of the Spanish v Hungarian battles Sabadell (winner in 2011, 2013 and 2014) clashes with Szentes (winner: 1995). The Spaniards were also runners-up last spring so they are the definite favourites to go through as the side is almost equal with the national team: eight players were in Belgrade where Spain finished 4th after losing in a shootout in the semis then by one goal in the bronze medal match so they were not that far from retaining their title from 2014.
The second pairing the game is due on Thursday will witness a newcomer in the elite circles, CN Mataro taking on UVSE Budapest. Here the Hungarians look pretty strong, among the six freshly crowned European champions in their line-up they have the best goalkeeper from Belgrade, Edina Gangl and the top scorer, Rita Keszthelyi. UVSE reached the Final Four on their first try though they had to settle for the fourth place last season now they are targeting something better.
The GreekRussian encounters also promise tremendous excitements. The title-holder, Olympiacos Piraeus will meet Uralochka Zlatoust. The Greeks enjoyed a great run in recent seasons, first they clinched the LEN Trophy in 2014 and added the Euro League gold in 2015. Olympiacos had some fine matches against Russian opponents, en route to the respective trophies they beat Kinef in the semis both in 2014 and in 2015. Now they face Uralochka which had a fine spell early in the new millennium, playing in the Final Four in 2001, 2002, 2003 and for the last time in 2007, however, they are yet to win a trophy.
This applies to Kinef, too. The Kirishi girls form probably the most unfortunate side in history: they played 9 times in the Euro League F4, reached the final on 5 occasions but could never lift the trophy. Now they play against Vouliagmeni, winner in 2009 and 2010 the second time they beat Kinef 10-7 for the title. The Greeks had the upper hand also in the semis in 2012 when they won 10-8, while a year later they ousted Kinef in the quarters in two thrilling matches (9-9, 14-13). Add the two losses to Olympiacos in the last two years (see above) and one might even discover a Greek phobia in Kirishi we shall see in the following ten days if it still lasts.
Euro League, Quarter-finals, 1st leg
18.00 Olympiacos Piraeus (GRE) v Uralochka Zlatoust (RUS)
19.30 CN Sabadell (ESP) v Hungerit-Szentes (HUN)
20.00 Vouliagmeni Athens (GRE) v Kinef Surgutneftegas Kirishi (RUS)
20.00 CN Mataro La Sirena (ESP) v UVSE Budapest (HUN)
Second legs are due on 27 February.
Winners will play for the Euro League title while the losers will meet in the LEN Trophy Final Four tournament.