Preview of Match of the WeekArticle
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Can Vive Targi Kielce cross the finishing line with a clean sweep or will Gorenje Velenje manage to finish second? – The Polish club has never took a single point on Slovenian ground so far.

Preview of the Match of the Week

It is an unofficial competition, but Polish champions Vive Targi Kielce are eager to win it: Which team will finish the Group Phase of VELUX EHF Champions League as the number one of al 24 participants?

After MKB Veszprém lost at Kiel and FC Barcelona Intersport were defeated at Berlin, Vive Targi Kielce are currently the only team with a 100 percent record after nine rounds. And since the change of the playing system to a group phase of 120 matches and a VELUX EHF FINAL4 as culmination point in the 2009/10 season, only one team achieved ten victories in ten matches: Ciudad Real (now Atlético Madrid) in the 2009/10 season.

Nine victories in nine matches, since weeks confirmed winners of Group C, so the Polish champions could rest on their cushion – but never ever coach Bogdan Wenta would allow his players to show some weakness.

One might saw in the previous matches against St. Petersburg and Chambéry that the Kielce engine got stuck a little, as two major “cylinders” are missing: the brilliant Croatian wing duo Manuel Štrlek and Ivan Čupić are out since injuries during the World Championship, so a highly important Kielce “weapon”, the needle-pin counter attacks, is missing.

But Štrlek will support his team in Velenje – as he will join the bus with the Kielce fans in Zagreb, where he currently has medical examinations. Mateusz Jachlewski will also not play because of bronchitis.

Maybe this is the chance for Gorenje Velenje in the Match of the Week on Saturday (16:30 hrs local time) to finish the series of success against Kielce.

Both teams had perfect domestic dress-rehearsals with 15 goal differences each for the final clash of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase: Gorenje Velenje beat RK Krško 36:21 in the Slovenian league, while Kielce won 37:22 against Szczecin in the Polish league.

As Kielce need the victory to fulfil their record, Velenje are still in the far-duel with RK Metalurg for the second position in this Group. But by giving a clear lead at Bjerringbro from their hands to finally lose by a last-second goal, the base is not that good for the current Slovenian champions.

They are equal in points with the Macedonians, but lost the direct encounter by aggregate goals – so the fate is not only in the hands of the “wasps”. Velenje finally need to have one more point on their account compared to Metalurg – and the Macedonians face Bjerringbro at home on Sunday. In case of a defeat against Kielce, the dream of ranking second below the Poles would already be over, before the starting whistle of the Metalurg match will be blown

The most interesting story of this match is unfortunately not Ivan Čupić, who played at Velenje before, but cannot face his former team-mates due to his shoulder injury, but Uroš Zorman. The Slovenian in the jersey of Kielce knows Velenje best.

Kielce had beaten Velenje in the first leg on home ground clearly by 30:24 – but the memories of playing in Slovenia are not the best: In the 2010/11 season, Kielce lost both Group Phase matches against RK Celje and in the previous season, they were close to their first ever quarter-final of the VELUX EHF Champions League, but stumbled against Cimos Koper.

A 27:26 victory on home ground was not enough, as the Poles lost the rematch 23:25 and were eliminated. And in the 2009/10 season Kielce even faced Gorenje Velenje, beating the Slovenians 23:21 on home court, but losing at the “wasps” 35:36.

And by looking back in history even longer, one see that Gorenje was the stumbling block for Kielce in 2004: After a 25:25 in Poland, the Slovenian outfit eliminated Vive Targi by a 24:21 in Velenje in the Last 16 of  the EHF Cup Winners’ Cup. The conclusion: Kielce never took a single point by now - neither in Velenje nor in Slovenia.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br