Montpellier catch-up chase ends in a drawArticle
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Velenje and Medvedi give victories from their hands, as Madrid easily take a win - still three Last 16 spots to be confirmed

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Montpellier catch-up chase ends in a draw

After 108 of 120 Group Matches of the VELUX EHF Champions League still some major decisions had not been taken – the tension will rise again in the last round. Three spots for the Last 16 are still not confirmed. And French champions Montpellier MAHB might be eliminated before the knock-out stage after their draw with Chekhovskie Medvedi on Sunday.

Besides, Kiel, Madrid and Bjerringbro were the winners of the final part of Round 9.

Group A:

Though three spots for the Last 16 had been decided earlier, still almost everything is open in this group. Hamburg, Flensburg (14 points each) and Medvedi (13 points) have the chance to finish on top – or will end up second or third. Hamburg face Montpellier on home ground, while Flensburg play at Chekhov.

And still Montpellier (six points) and León (five points) fight for the fourth spot for the Last 16 – with advantages for the Spaniards, who had won the direct encounter by two victories. León face Belgrade (confirmed as last team and out of the race for the knock-out stage) on home ground, while Montpellier play at Hamburg.

Montpellier MAHB (FRA) vs. Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) 30:30 (17:17)

What is this point worth? This was the major question after Montpellier had finished a great catch-up chase by a draw against the Russians – who tied for the third time in this season. Montpellier need a victory at Hamburg despite this draw – as leon are supposed to be the winner against Belgrade. A  mission impossible?

After a close and equal first half, Medvedi scored five straight times to be ahead by 22:17 and even went away to 26:19. But the French team – led by William Accambray – never gave up, reducing the gap minute by minute, goal by goal.

Five minutes before the end, it was only 27:29, 70 seconds before the final whistle it was 28:30, but then a double strike by counter-attacks secured the draw, as the Russians missed their last chance from a direct free throw. No Montpellier hope for a miracle to come.

Group B:

After their brilliant 32:21 win over the previously unbeaten group leader Veszprém, THW Kiel has a little chance to take the top in the final ranking. Therefore they need to beat Constanta and hope for a Veszprém defeat on home ground against Madrid. Despite their victory against Sävehof, Atlético cannot reach a better rank than the current third position.

Three teams still can hope for the final spot for the Last 16 before Match day 10: Celje (six points), Sävehof and Constanta (4 points each). The Romanians have the highest hurdle to climb, hosting defending champions from Kiel, while Sävehof have the fate in their hand having the home right against their direct opponent Celje. A draw is already enough for the Slovenians to proceed to the knock-out stage regardless all other results, while Sävehof first need to hope for a Constanta defeat and then have to beat Celje by more than six goals difference after the 25:31 defeat in the first leg.

Atlético Madrid (ESP) vs. IK Sävehof (SWE) 32:25 (14:11)

After their sensational 30:35 defeat at Gothenburg in the first leg, Atlético Madrid left no doubts about the winner in the re-match. Thanks to each five goals of  Kirl Lazarov and Roberto Parrondo the third ranked Spaniards left Sävehof chanceless in the end.

But the Swedish champions – led by seven times scorer Christian Bliznac tried hard to improve their base for reaching the Last 16.

Sävehof were close to the Spaniards until the score of 21:19 for Madrid, before the host forged ahead pre-decisively to 27:20. Though the Swedes intermediately managed to reduce the margin, those seven goals were the final distance.

Best player on the field was Ivano Balić, who inspired his Madrid team with his passes, besides the Atlético defence stood strong for most of the time.

“This victory was highly important, as now we know that we will finish third, which makes things easier for us in the knock-out stage,” Atlético coach Talant Dujshebaev said and added: “For 40 minutes we were the better team today.” Left back Nicolaj Markussen even hopes for further improvements: “When we have fewer injuries in our team, we can maintain this level for 60 minutes.”

On the other hand Sävehof coach Magnus Johansson hopes “that after Madrid also my team make it to the Last 16. We lost against the better team.” For Sävehof player Michael Apelgren the match was like a lesson: “Madrid taught us how to play.”

THW Kiel (GER) vs. MKB Veszprém (HUN) 32:21 (17:13)

 “Ole, here comes the THW”! 10,250 fans in the Sparkassen Arena were shouting their anthem as loud as they could, when the Match of the Week was ended. The defending VELUX EHF Champions League, who had lost two group matches already, proved their absolute will to dominate this competition again. In a never expected clear way THW beat the before unbeaten team of MKB Veszprém by 32:21 (17:13) and took more than revenge for the 30:31 defeat in the first leg in Hungary.

It was a return in more than style, especially in the second half, when Veszprém after eight victories in eight matches before did not know what to do and resigned completely against the unstoppable dominance of the Germans.

After this result, Kiel still can hope to finish first in this Group, but do not have the fate in their hands. They do not only have to win at Constanta in their last match, but have to hope for a Madrid victory at Veszprém next Saturday, too. A draw is already enough for the Hungarians to remain on top.

Top scorers in this high class but one-sided match were Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson (THW) with seven goals and Gabor Császár (Veszprém) with five goals. Another match winner for Kiel was brilliant goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer.

Group C:

The first (Vive Targi Kielce) and fourth (Bjerringbro Silkeborg) position are already clear, while Gorenje Velenje and Metalurg (12 points each) fight for the second rank in the final Round. As the Slovenians host Kielce, the Macedonians play on home ground against Silkeborg – and in case Velenje and Skopje finish equal, the Macedonians would be ahead thanks to the better goal difference in their direct encounter (30:23, 19:23). Since Saturday, Chambéry and St. Petersburg are out of the race.

Bjerringbro Silkeborg (DEN) vs. Gorenje Velenje (SLO) 27:26 (12:14)

After a brilliant catch-up chase and goal of Rasmus Lauge with the final whistle, Bjerringbro Silkeborg took their fourth victory one day after their first ever qualification for the Last 16 had been confirmed. After this defeat the chances of Gorenje Velenje to finish second have decreased hugely – and the Slovenians had been in lead nearly all the match. Having those additional two points on their account, life would have been much easier, as now they remain equal in points with Metalurg.

Bjerringbro-Silkeborg and Gorenje Velenje started out well in the defence, but after a few minutes Velenje scored some counter attacking goals, which gave them a 5-2 lead after eight minutes. But with goalkeeper Jannick Green improving, the Danes caught up again, but then were below by four goals at 8:12.

After the break both goalkeepers Green and Gajić did well, but despite Green’s saves, the Danes were down by 12:16 before nearly bridging the gap at 17:18. But BSV were not able to totally equalize, and they came again down by four goals, 22-18, with a quarter left on the clock. Gorenje Velenje punished any single fault in this period. But still Green stood strong, helping his team to equalize at 22:22 and even march ahead to 26:24 90 seconds before the end. But nothing was decided, as Velenje leveled for 26:26 – but then Lauge did it and secured the narrow and lucky win.

Branko Tamše, coach Gorenje Velenje was absolutely disappointed because of the loss of important points: “I think we deserved a least one point and probably also the victory. I think we showed a good game. We played well in the attack and did well on counter attacks, so we are very disappointed. We have had some problems with ill players up to the game but I don’t know whether or not that was decisive.”

His BSV counterpart Carsten Albrektsen was more than happy: “Even though we didn’t have to play for the point, we played for our honor. We decided to show that we were the right team to go through to the Last 16. I think we did well in the defence and our fast breaks were good. We were up against a good defence but we got our chances but missed too much on goalkeeper Ivan Gajić.”

Group D :

In Group D no matches had been played on Sunday – and the first three positions – FC Barcelona Intersport first, Füchse Berlin second and Dinamo Minsk third – are already confirmed. The fourth spot for the Last 16 will be decided in the final matches Berlin vs. Szeged and Zagreb vs. Schaffhausen.

If Szeged (six points) at least tie in the German capital, the Hungarians have made it to the knock-out stage. If they lose, and the Swiss champions (four points) win at Zagreb, Schaffhausen are qualified for the Last 16 for the third straight time, as they have won the direct encounter by aggregate goals.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br