Nantes through to the EHF Cup FinalsArticle
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Göppingen, Kolding and Maribor qualified for the quarter-finals. Last match day of the group phase will decide about the last spot.

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Nantes through to the EHF Cup Finals

The tension in the Men’s EHF Cup could not have been higher on Saturday evening, but the final whistle at Göppingen, where the host beat La Rioja 32:31, brought several decisions: Göppingen are the third German team after Rhein Neckar Löwen and SC Magdeburg to qualify for the quarter-finals as a group winner. And due to this result, Kolding, Nantes and Maribor booked their ticket to the next stages.

HBC Nantes have made it directly to the EHF Cup Finals on 18/19 May on home ground, as the French team definitely will finish among the three best second ranked teams. This means that only three quarter-final matches will be played, and the worst second ranked team will be eliminated after the group phase.

Despite their sensational defeats in the last round Branik Maribor (loser at Elverum) and KIF Kolding (clearly defeated at Prešov) have clinched their berths for the quarter-finals, also ranking among the three best second ranked teams. But Maribor still do not know, whether they finish first or second, as group C will be decided in the final duel Holstebro vs. Płock on Sunday. The winner of this match will finish on top of the group, in case of a tie an internal ranking of Maribor, Holstebro and Płock need to decide the positions – and then the Slovenians are on top again ahead of Holstebro and Płock and La Rioja will take the last spot in the quarter-finals.

Group A:

RK Cimos Koper (SLO) vs. Eskilstuna Guif (SWE) 30:27 (16:13)

RK Cimos Koper said “Farewell, Europe” to their fans with a victory as Eskilstuna remain the only team without any point after the group phase. The match had no meaning for the ranking, as both teams had already been eliminated from the knock-out stage before. A quartet secured the Koper victory, as Gavranović, Osmajić (each 6), Dobelšek and Rapotec (each 5) scored 22 of in total 30 goals for the victors, who had already won the first leg in Sweden by 30:29.

Frisch Auf Göppingen (GER) vs. Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) 32:31 (18:17)

It was a mixture of „Hitchcock thriller and mastermind calculations“ in Göppingen, as after the previous results it was clear that only the winner would be definitely among the quarter-finalist. Finally a draw would even have been enough for Göppingen to be qualified as one of the three best second ranked teams, but the German side took a highly close victory, which now means for La Rioja that they have 4 points in the “second team ranking” – and have to hope the match Holstebro vs. Płock will see no winner.

The Spaniards had won the first encounter by 25:23 and would have secured the group victory by a draw. But boosted by their league victory against THW Kiel, Göppingen started close to perfection by a 7:2 lead. But after the 10:15, La Rioja scored by a series of counter-attacks and reduced the margin to only one goal at the break.

And Naturhouse was close to turn the “match of nerves” around, as they equalized for 20:20. From that point on, the tension rose, causing extremely nervousness on both sides until the end. Göppingen seemed to be on the winner’s way at 32:29, but La Rioja returned, scoring two goals and having the chance to equalize, but the fully offensive Göppingen defence finally secured the victory in the last 30 seconds.

Group B:

HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) vs. Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 25:29 (12:13)

The group winners from  Rhein Neckar Löwen took their fifth victory in their sixth match. The German club had already been confirmed as quarter-finalist, while Zaporozhye was known as fourth ranked team before. In contrast to the clear result in the first leg (22:35) Motor improved and continued on their way after their sensational away victory at Kolding in round 5. But in the end, Löwen with their top scorers Guardiola, Bitz and Kretzschmer (five goals each) took both points. Burka and Semikov scored six times for Zaporozhye.

Tatran Prešov (SVK) vs. KIF Kolding (DEN) 29:22 (18:13)

KIF Kolding nearly threw away their perfect base for reaching the quarter-finals by this sensational defeat at Prešov – but after the final whistle in Göppingen the Danes could celebrate. As they cannot be overtaken by La Rioja anymore in the “second team ranking” they are through to the quarter-finals. Kolding and La Rioja are equal by 4 points in this ranking, but the Danish team have the clear better goal difference (+12) compared to the Spaniards (+4).  

Despite a brilliant performance the Slovakian champions missed the second rank in their group after the demolishing 17:37 defeat at Kolding. The Danes lost their third straight match and remained on six points, equal with Prešov, but finished ahead of them as they won the direct encounter.

Like against Zaporozhye, KIF did not find their style of play – and their opponent fought like it was for their lives. Though Prešov could not qualify for the quarter-finals anymore, but their clear objective was to finally beat one of the “big guns” of their group.

Led by their top scorers Radoslav Antl and Dainis Krištopans (six goals each) Tatran paved their way to the victory already at the break, when they were away by five goals. And what nobody had expected: The fighting spirit and the moral of the Danish team were low until the end, while Prešov showed a lot of passion and caused the biggest defeat of Kolding in the current season on international turf.

Group C:

Elverum Handball Herrer (NOR) vs. RK Maribor Branik (SLO) 30:27 (19:15)

Maribor Branik have missed their match point to finish on top of the group, but clinched their berth for the quarter-finals regardless whether they finish first or second in this group, as they at least have secured the runners-up position thanks to victories of .Prešov and Göppingen.

On the other hand, Elverum finished their EHF Cup campaign in style by taking their first victory. The Norwegians overran Maribor in the first 22 minutes, leading by 17:10 – the key to the success. Branik tried everything and reduced to four goals at the break, but the Norwegians – led by their top scorers Steffen Stegavik (8 goals) and Andreas Rönnberg (7) – stood the pressure. Maribor was close to turn the match around at 22:21, but a 5:0 series (including three Stegavik goals) to 27:21 secured the victory and caused a complete disappointment for the Slovenians, who had won the first leg clearly by 34:29.

Group D:

Besiktas JK (TUR) vs. HBC Nantes  (FRA) 21:24 (11:12)

„It was more pain than game, but we fulfilled our task in Istanbul,“ said HBC Nantes coach Thierry Anti after the hard-earned victory at Besiktas. The final match in this group, Stiinta Municipal Dedeman Bacau (ROU) vs. group winner SC Magdeburg (GER) on Sunday does not have any relevance anymore, as all positions are confirmed with Bacau ranked third ahead of Besiktas – and Nantes finishing among the three best second ranked teams to make it directly to the EHF Cup Finals on home ground.

The Turks played their strongest match in this competition, as Nantes lacked concentration in attack and had big problems in scoring. “It was the worst match of the whole season,” HBC team captain Rock Feliho was quoted on the club website. Intermediately the French team were away by four goals already before the break, but then Besiktas reduced to a one goal margin at halftime. After the break Nantes could not outdistance the opponent, but decided the match ten minutes before the end when leading by three goals.

Top scorer were Özbahar (Besiktas), Maqueda and Sayad (both Nantes) by six goals each.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br