Preview of the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, first legArticle
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16 teams from nine nations are aiming to get one step closer to Cologne

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Preview of the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, first leg

The knock-out phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League begins on Thursday, where 16 matches between 16 clubs from nine nations will decide the eight quarter-finalists who will compete for four spots in the highlight of the season, the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne on 1/2 June.

No teams from the same nation will compete against each other in the Last 16, which will begin in Chekhov and Minsk on Thursday.

The Match of the Week is one of two Slovenian-German encounters, the match between Celje Pivovarna Lasko and HSV Hamburg on Saturday, 16 March at 16:15 CET.

Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs. THW Kiel (GER)
Thursday, 19:30 hrs. local time
Second leg: 24 March 19:30 hrs. local time

If they wish to break the VELUX EHF FINAL4 curse, in the three seasons of the new final tournament format, the defending champions have never made it back to Cologne, THW Kiel will have to clear a high hurdle in the first knock-out round against an impressive Chekhovskie Medvedi.

Kiel are unbeaten in this competition since November, when they were defeated in two consecutive matches at Veszprem and Celje.

THW ended up as runners-up to Veszprém in Group B, while Medvedi let a better position in their group slip from their hands in their two final duels of the Group Ptage when the “draw kings” tied twice against Montpellier and Flensburg after losing a clear lead in both.

Kiel have won both previous matches against Medvedi, 32:26 and 28:25, back in 2008 and Medvedi have only won four of 26 matches against German teams in all EHF European Cup competitions.

In the current season they faced Flensburg and Hamburg and ended up with three draws and were clearly beaten at Flensburg.

The two table toppers of their respective leagues were both part of the inaugural VELUX EHF FINAL4 2010 in Cologne, when Medvedi finished fourth and Kiel lifted the trophy.

Medvedi players Sergei Gorbok and Sergiy Shelmenko are used to facing Kiel during their time with German club Rhein Neckar Löwen.

HC Dinamo Minsk (BLR) vs. HC Metalurg (MKD)
Thursday, 19:00 hrs. local time
Second leg: 23 March 18:00 hrs. local time

One team who has come all the way from the qualification tournaments will make it to the quarter-final.

Minsk and Metalurg have (as well as Hamburg who won the wild card tournament) have already played 12 matches to reach the knock-out stage. And for both teams, it was their second appearance in the Group Phase.

Minsk are a debutant among the best 16 teams and it’s the second time for Metalurg, who were narrowly eliminated by RK Zagreb last season.

Just like the season before, the Macedonians had the best defence in the Group Stage, while Minsk were close to pulling off one of the biggest sensations, leading at Barcelona for 53 minutes before eventually losing by one goal.

Minsk finished third in Group D below the Catalans and Berlin, while Metalurg caught the second place in Group C below Kielce.

In the 2010 qualification tournament, both teams met in the final in Porto, with Minsk beating Skopje 27:20.

But Metalurg have quite good memories against Belarussian teams, as they just beat former SEHA league table topper Meshkov Brest to take their place on top.

Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs. HSV Hamburg (GER)
Saturday, 16:15 hrs. local time
Second leg: 21 March 19:30 hrs. local time

The two current top scorers in the VELUX EHF Champions face in the direct duel, Dane Hans Lindberg (HSV, 69 goals) and Slovenian Gasper Marguc (Celje, 65).

Celje have perfect memories in hosting German teams this season, as they sensationally beat THW Kiel in the Group Phase. Despite this surprise, the 2004 EHF Champions League winner finished fourth in the “group of death” with Kiel, Veszprem and Madrid.

Thanks to a thrilling final victory against Montpellier, Hamburg finished on top of Group A despite having to replace some injured top players constantly.

Both teams never met before in European Cup competitions. The only “Slovenian experience” for Hamburg was a victory and a draw against Koper last season.

Celje’s record against German teams is respectable with ten victories, two draws and 13 defeats.

Hamburg were eliminated in the Last 16 last season by their German rivals Füchse Berlin, as for Celje, it is their first time since 2007 to be at this stage of the competition.

Bjerringbro-Silkeborg (DEN) vs. FC Barcelona Intersport (ESP)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time
Second leg: 24 March 17:15 hrs. local time

FC Barcelona Intersport do not consider the matches against Bjerringbro Silkeborg as a bad omen, even though they were eliminated in the 2011/12 quarter-finals on Danish ground. “Bjerringbro are not Kobenhavn,” said manager Xavier O’Callaghan.

Barcelona have ten victories and one draw against Danish teams in European Cup history and lost only twice, against Gudme and Kobenhavn, each with former Barca player Mikkel Hansen in the squads of the winning opponent.

And BSV line player Henrik Toft Hansen even knows how to beat Barca, as he was in the AGK squad one year ago.

Danish international Jesper Noddesbo will visit his home with Barcelona and will be hoping for this visit not to end like last season, when he received a red card in Kobenhavn.

Silkeborg will see BSV’s first appearance in the knock-out stage of the competition in only their second year of participation and the teams never faced before in an EHF competition.

Barcelona are among the best 16 teams for the 14th time in their club history – and the big aim is to go all the way to Cologne, the final destination they had missed as defending champions in the previous season.

The Catalans were clear the winners of Group D with nine victories and only one defeat against Füchse Berlin.

Silkeborg ranked fourth and left more experienced teams like Chambery and St. Petersburg behind in Group C.

If BSV are eliminated, this tie will be the last international appearances for Toft Hansen and Rasmus Lauge, who move to German sides Hamburg and Kiel next season.

Reale Ademar Leon (ESP) vs. MKB Veszprém KC (HUN)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time
Second leg: 23 March 16:00 hrs. local time

Can MKB Veszprém KC take revenge and break their “Spanish curse”? In the previous four seasons the Hungarians were eliminated by Spanish teams either in the Last 16 or the quarter-finals, including their failure one year ago at Reale Ademar Leon.

But for this season, Veszprém have a Spanish influence thanks to their coach Carlos Ortega and four former Asobal league players.

Veszprém and Leon faced each other six times before with a clear advantage for the Hungarians with five victories and one defeat, but this 31:28 was decisive in the 2012 Last 16, as they were eliminated.

This season, Veszprém clearly dominated Group B by nine victories and only one defeat at defending champions THW Kiel.

Leon was the last of the 16 teams to qualify as the fourth ranked team in Group A, leapfrogging Montpellier with a victory against Belgrade in Round 10.

Due to their major transition, only four players who were on the court against Veszprém last season are still in the Leon squad.

Pick Szeged (HUN) vs. KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL)
Sunday, 15:00 hrs. local time
Second leg: 24 March 17:00 Kielce hrs. local time

Szeged, the Last 16 participant with the lowest number of points after the Group Phase (6), face Kielce, the only team to win all ten group matches.

Although both have a long tradition in European Cups and the VELUX EHF Champions League, they never faced in a direct duel.

Szeged finished fourth in Group D and can count on the third best current scorer of this competition, Frantisek Sulc (62 goals), while Kielce will still have to cover for their Croatian wing shooters Ivan Cupic and Manuel Strlek, who might return for the second leg.

Both clubs are aiming for the title in their domestic leagues too, Kielce are on top in Poland and Szeged are second ranked just one point below their arch rival Veszprem in Hungary.

BM Atlético Madrid (ESP) vs. Füchse Berlin (GER)
Sunday, 18:00 hrs. local time
Second leg: 24 March 18:00 hrs. local time

Will Atlético be able to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 for the fourth consecutive season, or will Berlin eliminate a Spanish opponent for the second time on their way to Cologne?
Last season, when both teams made it to Cologne, Füchse lost twice against Madrid in the Group Phase (32:37, 27:32), but things have changed since and Füchse proved their strength at home, beating the Spanish number one Barcelona.

Füchse finished second in their group, while injury-hit Atlético lost five matches on their way to third place in the group.

Both goalkeepers, Jose Javier Hombrados and Adnan Sabanovic, are out.

Füchse proved in the previous season that they are even able to come back a 12 goal deficit against a Spanish team, when eliminating Leon in the quarter-final.

Nearly no team had more European Cup matches against German clubs than Atlético, with a balance of 25 victories, 2 draws, and 16 defeats.

The return leg of this encounter will be the Match of the Week on 24 March and the first leg should provide an interesting scenario for that game.

Gorenje Velenje (SLO) vs. SG Flensburg-Handewitt  (GER)
Sunday, 19:30 hrs. local time
Second leg: 23 March 17:15 hrs. local time

It has been 16 years since these teams have met in European competition; their meetings then saw two clear (29:17, 28:19) victories for SG Flensburg-Handewitt in the quarter-finals of the EHF-Cup.

The teams have never met in this competition, but Gorenje Velenje never won any of their four encounters against German teams in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

The “wasps” have reached the Last 16 for the fourth time, but this round has always been as far as they could go in this competition, the last time in 2010, when they were eliminated by Ciudad Real (ESP).

In contrast, Flensburg were twice finalists, but never won the trophy and never made it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

The Slovenians finished the Group Phase in third place below Kielce and Metalurg, while Flensburg were runners-ups in Group A, just one point below Hamburg, the only opponent who managed to beat SG so far.

There are five players in total who have scored more than 50 goals in the competition set to play in this match: Anders Eggert (59) and Holger Glandorf (55) on Flensburg’s side and Jure Dolenec (54), Fahrudin Melić (53) and Marko Bezjak (51) for Velenje.

Although the currently third ranked team of the German Bundesliga are branded as favourites, the Germans have bad memories in Slovenia.

In 2004 they lost the EHF Champions League finals against Velenje’s arch rival Celje, which was only one of three defeats against Slovenian teams compared to their eight victories.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor