Raise the curtain!Article
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Preview of Round 1 of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

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Raise the curtain!

124 days after FC Barcelona Intersport raised the trophy at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, the Group Phase of the new season of the VELUX EHF Champions League will start this Thursday.

The starting whistle of the 19th edition of this competition will be blown at Zagreb, the team which start their 18th season in the EHF Champions League.

120 Group Matches are to be played until February 2012, until the 16 participants of the Last 16 are known.

Group A

Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO) vs. IK Sävehof (SWE)
Thursday, 18:00 hrs (local time)

The Croatian champions are clear favourites in this game, not only because of their strength at home. The Swedish champions who only won one match in last season’s Group Phase, qualified as winner of the Qualification Tournament in Vienna. Due to their individual class and international experience Zagreb should take this first hurdle.

FC Barcelona Intersport (ESP) vs. Chambery Savoie (FRA)
Saturday, 16:15 hrs (local time)

The defending champions start on home ground, but they are aware of their first opponents: Last season Barcelona were beaten in Chambery, but took the points at the Palau Blaugrana. As their arena is something like a fortress, the Catalans are in the favoured position, but Chambery showed some strong performances during the preparation.

HC Bosna BH Gas Sarajevo (BIH) vs. Kadetten Schaffhausen (SUI)

Saturday, 19:00 hrs (local time)

Right at the start of the Group Phase this game could have a pre-decisive meaning for the rest of the competition. Bosna and Kadetten fight for the ticket to the Last 16 and every point counts due to their strong opponents like Barcelona, Zagreb or Chambery. Traditionally Bosna is much stronger at home, but Kadetten, who have lost some key players, showed last season that they have improved in away matches– so a close game can be expected.

Group B

KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL) vs. MKB Veszprem (HUN)
Sunday, 15:00 hrs (local time)

The ehfTV.com Match of the Week in this ‘group of death’ will bring on two teams with a lot of tradition and top stars. After failing in the Group Stage last season, Kielce is willing to ‘survive’ this phase – but Veszprem has the clear objective to win their group again. Top stars like Szmal on the one hand and Vujin on the other hand will attract a full hall in Kielce, where the Polish runners-up won the Wild Card Tournament. Veszprem is warned as Kielce beat Valladolid and Löwen in this tournament.

Bjerringbro-Silkeborg (DEN) vs. Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Sunday, 16:15 hrs (local time)

The anticipation has been huge in Denmark, already before Bjerringbro-Silkeborg have heir first ever Group Phase match in the VELUX EHF Champions League. The Danes sold more than 10,000 tickets for the game in Herning – a vast interest, even as the home team seems to be in the outsider role against the three times CL winner, which also will have a debut: For the first time the former Ciudad Real team will have an international match with their new name and their new red-white shirts.

Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs. Füchse Berlin (GER)
Sunday, 18:00 hrs (local time)

Another debutant will have their start in the major club competition: Füchse Berlin hope for a little surprise in Chekhov, like Szeged did last year by taking the points from Russia. Füchse started well in the Bundesliga and all eyes will be on Iker Romero, who will have his first international match for his new club. On the other hand Medvedi know that they have to take the points on home court in this tough group to reach the Last 16.

Group C

HSV Hamburg (GER) vs. HC St. Petersburg (RUS)
Thursday, 19:00 hrs (local time)

Old friends meet in Hamburg, as HC coach Dimitri Torgowanow is a former HSV player – and he knows that the chances to surprise at the German champions are small, despite HSV have some major injury problems. Both left handed players Oscar Carlen and Marcin Lijewski are out due to injuries, so the Germans made a last minute transfer by signing Slovenian Renato Vugrinec from Qatar.

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs. HBM Constanta (ROU)
Saturday, 15:00 hrs (local time)

Two teams on eye level face in Poland for the first points on their run for the Last 16. Wisla is in advantage not only because of some improvements in the squad (like Nikola Eklemovic) but because their fanatic spectators which will create a special atmosphere.

HC Metalurg (MKD) vs. Cimos Koper (SLO)
Saturday, 18:00 hrs (local time)

With this Balkan clash HC coach Lino Cervar returns to the VELUX EHF Champions League - and both teams share their major objective, to proceed to the Last 16. For the new Serbian Metalurg goalkeeper Darko Stanic it will be a special game, as he will face his old team mates, with whom he won the EHF Challenge Cup last season. The spectators in Skopje can expect a match on the edge.

Group D

HC Partizan Beograd (SRB) vs. AG Kobenhavn (DEN)
Saturday, 17:00 hrs (local time)

Underdog versus top contender is the motto of this game. The Danish champions with top stars like Mikkel Hansen, Joachim Boldsen or Kasper Hvidt start as clear favourites in the Serbian city of Vrsac (one of the EHF EURO 2012 venues), even as their newcomer Olafur Stefansson is still injured. Beograd hope for a full arena and a huge support – but in a normal case this is not enough to endanger Kobenhavn.

MAHB Montpellier (FRA) vs. Reale Ademar Leon (ESP)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs (local time)

Bonjour, Adrien! Leon newcomer Adrien die Panda will get a special welcome, as he played for Montpellier until last season. But despite this transfer the Spaniards are in the outsider’s role at Montpellier. The French champions only lost two home matches in their new arena last season (against HSV and Löwen) and not only due to the return of defence specialist Wissem Hmam they are favourites in this opener.

Pick Szeged (HUN) vs. THW Kiel (GER)
Sunday, 19:00 hrs (local time)

Can the Hungarians endanger the German runners-up? The spectators in Szeged hope for a huge sensation, but the two times winner of the EHF Champions League have started strong in this season – after winning all 14 preparation matches the "Zebras" also won the German Supercup and all Bundesliga matches with their well-rehearsed squad. A home victory would be a huge surprise.

TEXT: Björn Pazen