Major sensations by Porto and DunkerqueArticle
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ROUND REVIEW: Kielce and KIF suffer surprising defeats, while Barcelona make it to the Last 16 like Kolding-Kobenhavn

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Major sensations by Porto and Dunkerque

It was the Saturday of the sensations in Group B: The two bottom ranked teams FC Porto and Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral became the stumbling blocks for the top ranked teams KIF Kolding-Kobenhavn and Vive Targi Kielce. For Dunkerque it was even the first ever EHF Champions League victory in their club history.

As expected, Veszprem and Barcelona remained the only unbeaten teams of the group phase. Barca qualified for the Last 16 by taking revenge on Vardar Skopje, while Veszprem easily beat St. Petersburg.

Group A:

MKB-MVM Veszprem (HUN) vs. St. Petersburg HC (RUS) 29:20 (13:7)

MKB-MVM Veszprem had an easy-going evening to secure their seventh victory against St. Petersburg. The Russian side were below par especially in attack – a merit of the Veszprem's defence of course.

The host took an initially clear 7:2 lead and had the full control of the match, extending the lead intermediately to already seven goals. Having the better skills and the individually better players is was like a walk to get the first double-figured lead at 20:10 in minute 42, mainly because of the counter-attack goals of the Ivancsik brothers.

The biggest margin were 11 goals, in the end it were nine – and St. Petersburg remain without a single point. Gergö Ivancsik celebrated his 32nd birthday as the top scorer of the match with six goals.

Group B:

FC Porto Vitalis (POR) vs. KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN) 27:24 (15:11)

Despite qualifying for the Last16 the players of KIF Kolding Kobenhavn left the court heads hung low, the staff on the bench had faces like ice, while FC Porto danced on the field after causing one of the biggest sensations in the entire Group Phase.

The base could not have been different before the match: KIF were boosted by a double strike against last season’s VELUX EHF FINAL4 participant Kielce, Porto were defeated twice in the crucial duels for the fourth position by Wisla Plock.

But the Portuguese side proofed they are still alive and fighting for the next stage.

By four points now they still can pass Plock (currently six points before their tomorrow’s match at Kiel) in three remaining three matches.

Despite the defeat KIF clinched their berth for the Last 16 with still 10 points – as they cannot get passed by Porto anymore after winning the direct encounter (25:20 in the first leg). But the defeat was a major setback of KIF’s hopes to finish first in this group.

Now THW Kiel can become a sole group leader by taking at least a point on Sunday against Wisla, which also would mean the German outfit's qualification for the Last 16.

The number of technical mistakes was much too high at the Danish team to finish successful, additionally they might have underestimated the hosts, who fought like dragons in the “Dragon’s Den”.

The injury-hit team from Denmark did not find their rhythm, and the coordination of defence and goalkeeper Kasper Hvidt was not as good as in the previous two matches against Kielce. Led by their top scorer Pedro Spinola (eight goals), Porto showed their best international performance in this season. One saw they had nothing to lose – and without this burden and pressure they managed to go ahead much easier than expected.

The Porto tactics, to reduce the speed to avoid the Danish counter-attacks, worked already before the break. With KIF not scoring in the last ten minutes of the first half, Porto quite easily forged ahead to a four goal margin.

And it even came worse for KIF, as Porto extended the lead to 20:13, causing a KIF time-out. From that moment on the Danish runners-ups seemed to have the strength to turn the match around – but the roller coaster stopped at 21:20 for Porto, as then the host again took full control and latest decided the match at 26:23 two minutes before the end.

Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral (FRA) vs. KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL) 30:25 (12:15)

It was a game of two halves and a game with a clear match winner: Vincent Gerard. The goalkeeper of Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral was the key to success by saving an incredible number of 19 shots. He was the reason, why the Polish side only scored ten goals after the break. In the end Gerard’s saving percentage was at 43 percent – the double outcome compared with Venio Losert and Slawomir Szmal on the other side.

In their debut season in the VELUX EHF Champions League, the French runners-up had been defeated in all their six previous matches, were one of three teams without a single point – but on Saturday evening they turned night into day against the 2013 VELUX EHF FINAL4 team by taking their first ever Champions League win.

Even Dunkerque's coach Patrick Cazal was surprise: "I did not expect our first victory tonight. After the first half I thought we had missed our chance despite a solid match. Before re-starting the game, I told the boys that the important thing was not so much the victory, but the outcome after one hour to prepare for our league clash against PSG. Of course, we are very satisfied with this first victory, even more as it happened against this team."

For Kielce it was the third straight defeat – after an incredible series of 14 victories in 14 Group Matches in 2012/13 and the first four matches of this season, including a brilliant 34:29 against THW Kiel. But from that match on, the success disappeared for Kielce, which remain on eight points and third position in this group.

Kielce's coach Bogdan Wenta was highly disappointed: "It was an important game, especially after Kolding Copenhagen had lost in Porto. If we had won tonight, we would have been equal with them. We had the opportunity to win, but we did not give enough. It's a pity but we must salute the performance of Dunkerque which did a very good match."

Dunkerque had already proved their upswing in the two encounters against Kiel, but now they could also harvest the fruit.

Kielce were dominant in the first half, leading by three goals – which seemed to be a comfortable cushion to end the series of defeats. But then Vincent Gerard boosted his team by his saves. Dunkerque took control, equalized right after the break and took the lead, while Kielce stopped scoring.

Gerard was absolutely happy in the end: "We had hoped for a victory, as we did not want to finish with out a single point in this competition. We have shown everyone we deserve our place in the Champions League, that we haven’t achieve it for no reason."

The trio Kornel Nagy (7 goals), Mohamed Mokrani (6) and Baptiste Butto (5) scored more than 50 per cent of Dunkerque’s goals – and the host even scored in crunch time, being with one player less on the court to extend the gap to 26:22. Latest at 28:23 the winners were confirmed and the party could start.

Group C:

FC Barcelona (ESP) vs. HC Vardar – Skopje (MKD) 30:23 (14:11)

Mission accomplished: FC Barcelona remain unbeaten, took their sixth victory in their seventh group match, avenged the draw at Skopje, took their 200th win in an European Cup match and clinched their berth for the Last 16. There’s nothing more the Catalans could have added on Saturday.

But the final result does not reflect the full 60 minutes, as Vardar were on eye level for almost 45 minutes and put enormous pressure on the Barca shooters. At the end the bigger options to rotate players and the greater experience of the team of head coach Xavi Pascual led to a clear result.

Best Vardar player was – like in the first city duel with Metalurg – goalkeeper Strahinja Milic, but even his brilliant performance was not enough to endanger the leaders of Group D in the final stages.

With 13 points Barcelona are clearly ahead of the rest, while Vardar even can lose their fourth position on Sunday, if Minsk beat PSG. Top scorer of the match was the only Macedonian, who does not play for the Macedonian champions: Kiril Lazarov by eight strikes for Barca, while Matjaz Brumen scored six goals for Vardar.

The first half mainly was imprinted by two strong defence sides and the fact that Barcelona could not speed up as usual. Milic and the Vardar defence stood strong until the 10:10, then the Catalans forged ahead to a three goal margin at the break.

In the second half Skopje even were ahead by 17:16, before an intermediate 6:1 series of Barcelona decided the match. In this period goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik shut up his shop, and Barca managed to get away to a nine goal margin at 27:19 – latest then the winner was confirmed.

It might be a small consolation for Vardar that they lost much closer than their arch rivals Metalurg did in Palau Blaugrana (17:35).

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br