Knockout begins and the pressure is buildingArticle
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LAST 16 PREVIEW: The next stage on the way to Cologne begins on Thursday with HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) vs THW Kiel (GER) raising the curtain for the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

Knockout begins and the pressure is building

After eight teams left the competition at the end of the group phase, eight more will go the same way after 16 matches over the next 12 days.

Five of the eight Last 16 pairings have never occurred in the history of European Cup competitions before, while some – like the repeat of the 2004 EHF Champions League Final between Celje and Flensburg – are meetings of teams quite familiar with each other.

The final decision on those eight teams to clinch a berth for the next round will be taken from 29 to 31 March, when the second legs will be staged.

HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) vs. THW Kiel (GER)
Thursday, 19:15 hrs. local time in Györ
Second leg: 30.03., 17:15 hrs. local time

Four days after the main round of the Women’s EHF Champions League came to an end in Györ, the Last16 of the men’s competition starts at the same venue. Due to political reasons, EHF had decided to play this game on neutral ground and not in Ukraine, so the fans in Györ will see their first men’s match at this level in the fortress of the reigning women’s champions.

Both teams never faced before in any competition, as Motor Zaporozhye are a debutant in the top flight, but the Ukrainians have already the experience of facing a German side, as they tied at Rhein Neckar Löwen in their group phase opener, and later lost on home court.

THW Kiel – missing injured left back Rasmus Lauge after a cruciate ligament rupture – should be aware, bearing in mind last season when they were defeated by Russia’s Chekhovskie Medvedi in their Last 16 first leg.

Kiel are the favourites, with a stronger team on paper and the three-time Champions League winner have the home right in the second leg, but Motor are confident of causing another upset, akin to beating Veszprem in their final and crucial group phase match.

Aalborg Handball (DEN) vs. FC Barcelona (ESP)
Sunday, 15:00 hrs. local time
Second leg: 29.03. 20:30 hrs. local time

For the third straight time FC Barcelona face a Danish club in the knock-out stage and for the third time it is a different club.

After being dumped out of the competition by AG Kobenhavn in the 2011/12 quarter-finals, Bjerringbro-Silkeborg were no match for them last season in the Last 16, and now the Catalans travel to Aalborg. The first leg will be something special for line player Jesper Noddesbo, a member of the Danish national team.

Aalborg finished fourth in their group and now hope to cause a major sensation and a draw or even victory against Barca would definitely cause shockwaves around European handball.

The Catalans are without goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik, but welcome newcomer Michael Robin, who signed from Montpellier and will partner Danijel Saric.

Many Barca players know Aalborg well, as six of them played their preliminary round of the EHF EURO 2014 with Spain in the Gigantium arena.

Aalborg have former Asobal players such as Havard Tvedten in their squad, who will try to use inside knowledge to expose any weaknesses in the Barca side, of which there are arguably very few.

The Catalans were unbeaten until the final group match, when they lost at Skopje and even go into the first leg away as favourites. These encounters against Barcelona could prove to be the last international matches for Nikolaj Jacobsen as Aalborg’s coach, as he takes the reigns at Rhein Neckar Löwen next season.

HC Vardar - Skopje (MKD) vs. HSV Hamburg (GER)
Saturday, 18:00 hrs. local time
Second leg: 30.03. 18:45 hrs. local time

Vardar can boast draws against PSG and Barcelona on home court prior to their first knockout match in the VELUX EHF Champions League and will be looking to continue their run of impressive results against HSV.

The Boris Trajkovski Arena will be fully packed against the defending champions, who are clearly aware in their first match against Vardar. “We know several key players, as we have faced their former club Medvedi quite often,” said board member Matthias Rudolph after the draw.

Both sides had duels with local rivals in the group phase, as Vardar faced Metalurg and HSV competed with Flensburg.

The Macedonians can again count on Alex Dushebajev after his injury – and in contrast to Metalurg they already reached one of their season goals by qualifying for the semi-final of the SEHA league (against Zagreb in Novi Sad).

The first leg might already be crucial, as in away matches Vardar mostly showed a completely different face compared to their strong and successful performances in Boris Trajkovski.

If Hamburg manage to stay in touch then they should hold a significant advantage at home in the second leg. If HSV fail to overcome the Skopje side, they will make unwanted history as the first VELUX EHF FINAL4 winner to be eliminated at the Last16 stage in the following season.

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs. MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN)
Sunday, 19:00 hrs. local time – Match of the Week
Second leg: 29.03. 14:00 hrs. local time

After nearly eleven years since their last encounter, they meet again. In the group matches of the 2002/03 season, Veszprém took two clear victories against the current Polish runners-up, but things are expected to be closer this time around.

With Laszlo Nagy back to his old strength again after suffering from a long-term injury, the Hungarian side are favourites in this duel, despite some strong results for Plock, achieved mainly at home.

The first leg could be a tight affair, as Veszprém dropped their only points of the campaign so far in away matches (in Germany and Ukraine).

After failing four straight times to qualify, it is the clear goal of Veszprém to be at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.

RK Gorenje Velenje (SLO) vs. PSG Handball (FRA)
Saturday, 20:30 hrs. local time
Second leg: 30.03. 17:00 hrs. local time

It will be a special sort of homecoming for wing player Fahrudin Melic, arriving with his new club PSG at former side Velenje.

The teams have never faced before in an international encounter - and like in 2013 (against SG Flensburg-Handewitt), Velenje drew a highly strong opponent for the Last 16.

The ever-improving French champions are favourites with their “world selection” including the former world handball players of the year, Daniel Narcisse and Mikkel Hansen.

Velenje finished the group phase in third after saving their campaign with a great second half. The “wasps” are considered to be much stronger on home court – so they will need to win at home if they hope to spring a surprise one week later in Paris.

Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs. SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
Sunday, 19:15 hrs. local time
Second leg: 29.03. 17:30 hrs. local time

No pairing among this season’s Last 16 have more history than this one. The sides have met on eight occasions, with four Flensburg wins, one draw and three victories for Celje – including the most important one on 18 April 2004, winning the first leg of the final 34:28 on their way to achieving the biggest success in the club’s history.

Two seasons later the Last16 was even more historic, as Flensburg closed a ten-goal deficit from the first leg (31:41) to draw level on aggregate (36:26) and win on away goals.

In the 2009/10 season they met for the last time in the quarter-finals of the EHF Cup, in which Flensburg claimed victory on both occasions.

Things have changed at both sides since then and Flensburg are currently suffering from a long list of injuries, mainly in the left back position (Kaufmann, Nenadic, Gustafson).

Celje proved their credentials against German teams last season by beating Kiel on home court and defeating eventual champions HSV in Hamburg.

“A typical 50:50 match,” said humble SG manager Dierk Schmäschke, while the Slovenian side clearly offered the favourites role to their opponent. In the current season Celje lost both encounters against a German side (Löwen) in the group phase.

HC Metalurg (MKD) vs.  KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN)
Sunday, 16:55 hrs. local time
Second leg: 30.03. 16:45 hrs. local time  in Kolding

KIF have not been part of been part of an EHF Champions League quarter-final since the 2002/03 season, but hopes are high to be among the best eight teams of Europe once again.

Thanks to two wins over Kielce, the Danes managed to finish second in their group, while Metalurg finished third below Barcelona and PSG in arguably the toughest of this season’s four groups.

After the sweet taste of reaching the quarter-finals last season, coach Lino Cervar is eager to prove it was no one-off for his side.

Both sides are missing key players, such as Kim Andersson for KIF and Naumce Mojsovski for Metalurg, due to injuries.

With an impressive win over Barcelona in their final group match, the Macedonian runners-up sent a warning to the Danes as to what they should expect in Skopje.

Two close and defence-orientated matches can be expected, in which two of the best and most experienced goalkeepers of the competition face-off: Kasper Hvidt and Darko Stanic.

KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL) vs. Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)
Saturday, 16:10 hrs. local time
Second leg: 31.03. 19:00 hrs. local time

Five former Löwen players (Cupic, Lijewski, Szmal, Tkaczyk and Bielecki) are eager to bring their ex-teammates European adventure to an early end.

With the signing of coach Talant Dujshebaev, the style of play and tactics changed, rendering the results of the five previous duels between the sides somewhat insignificant.

In their most recent game in 2011, Kielce snatched the ticket to the group phase by winning the final of the wildcard tournament after extra-time at home.

Both sides have already had a taste of Cologne, as Löwen reached the 2011 edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 and Kielce had finished third in 2013. Both sides feel they are good enough to make it again this season, but there’s only room for one in the next round.

Both sides are currently in great domestic form, with Löwen only two points behind THW Kiel in the German Bundesliga and Kielce topping the Polish league with a seven-point advantage over Plock.

Both sides expect sold-out arenas and after taking three from four possible points against THW, Kielce are highly motivated to make the next German side stumble.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor