The “second half” is about to startArticle
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ROUND PREVIEW: The eight participants of the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-finals will be decided from Saturday to Monday

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

The “second half” is about to start

Five home victories, one draw and two away wins were the outcome of the first leg of the Last 16 in the VELUX EHF Champions League. Two group winners THW Kiel and FC Barcelona seem to have the best chances to proceed to the quarter-finals – alongside Metalurg Skopje, after their surprisingly clear 23:17 victory over KIF Kolding Kobenhavn.

Among the teams to have lost their away matches it is Rhein Neckar Löwen who appear to have one of the toughest tasks ahead, after a four goal deficit at Kielce.

Compared to last season, the competition at this stage is much more level, as in 2013 only two lower seeded teams managed to take home victories in the first leg and both, Pick Szeged and Chekhovskie Medvedi, failed to close the deak, as they lost their respective duels on aggregate against Kielce and Kiel.

Last season, only one team from pots 3 and 4, Atletico Madrid, managed to clinch their berth in the quarter-finals.

Since the implementation of the current playing system in the 2009/10 season with the Last16 as the first knock-out stage, only five teams managed to proceed to the quarter-finals after finishing third or fourth in the group phase: HSV Hamburg (2009/10), FC Barcelona (2010/11), Füchse Berlin, Ademar Leon (2011/12) and Madrid (2012/13).

The chances to increase those numbers in the current season are quite high, even though teams like Plock, Velenje and Celje carry only a minimal advance to their away matches, or just a draw in the case of Vardar Skopje.

THW Kiel (GER) vs. HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR)
Sunday, 17:15 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 31:28

A 15th participation in an EHF Champions League quarter-final is very much a possibility doe THW after a solid forst leg performance. The three-time champions have not lose a single home match in European competition this and last previous season, their last home defeat in this competition dates back to9 October 2011 (23:24 against Montpellier), leaving Motor Zaporozhye as the clear underdogs.

“We need more international experience to be able to stand an opponent like Kiel,” said Motor coach Sergej Bebeshko after defeat in the first leg, which was played in Györ, Hungary.

On the other Kiel coach Alfred Gislason, who still has to replace Rasmus Lauge, hopes for an improvement: “We have to play better than we did in Györ. Though many people think that the deal is already sealed, for me the outcome of this duel is still open.”

FC Barcelona (ESP) vs. Aalborg Handball (DEN)
Saturday, 20:30 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 29:22

Barcelona can march in step with THW Kiel to their 15th Champions League quarter-final in the clubs history and after the clear away win in Denmark, few expect a Barcelona failure.

“We have a very good base, but 60 minutes are still ahead,” was the humble statement of Barca coach Xavi Pascual. Never before has a team given a seven-goal away victory away in the Last 16 of this competition.

Barcelona can have two reasons to celebrate on Saturday evening as they can also clinch their new Asobal title. Naturhouse La Rioja will play at Juanfersa Grupo Fegar on Saturday evening and if Rioja do not win, FC Barcelona will become Asobal champions.

HSV Hamburg (GER) vs. HC Vardar - Skopje (MKD)
Sunday, 18:45 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 28:28

“It is only half-time” say HSV Hamburg after the draw at Skopje, indicating that they still have plenty of work to do in this tricky tie. With Vardar taking their third draw against a top team, after Barcelona and Paris, they are on a high, but know that their away performances are quite different to those at home, as they proved with defeats at the same clubs.

Hamburg hope for the return of Danish right wing Hans Lindberg, although his substitute Stefan Schröder is in fine form at the moment, scoring nine goals in the first leg.

“We have to be aware, nothing is for free in this competition,” said coach Martin Schwalb, who’s team can make it to the quarter-final for the sixth time in the last seven years.

On the other hand, this is Vardar’s first time and they admit that their hopes are limited: “If we don’t change our game, the chances of making something in Hamburg are small,” said Vardar's Filip Lazarov.

MKB-MVM Veszprem (HUN) vs. Orlen Wisla Plock (POL)
Saturday, 14:00 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 33:34

Four straight times MKB-MVM Veszprem were blocked by Spanish or German teams on their way to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 either in the Last 16 or the quarter-finals. Will history repeat itself against a Polish team?

The Hungarians hope for a clear improvement on home court after the close away defeat: “We have to strengthen our defence, which was horrible in Plock, for the re-match because it is a basis of our play,” said Veszprem’s Cristian Ugalde.

The Hungarian side conceded more goals than their previous 10 games this season, while Plock enjoyed arguably their best performance of the season.

“I hope we can continue like this, but we know about the special atmosphere in the Veszprem Arena,” said Plock coach Manoel Cadenas before the second duel of Spanish coaches with Carlos Ortega.

PSG Handball (FRA) vs. RK Gorenje Velenje (SLO)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 28:30

Just like Veszprem vs Plock, nothing is decided in this duel. Velenje were dominant nearly all match, but Paris managed to close the gap and give themselves a chance in the return leg.

Mario Sostaric, Velenje’s top scorer in the first leg, is full of confidence: “If we have the smallest chance to win in Paris, we will grab it. They are not unbeatable, even on home court. We are not scared of big names.”

Last season Velenje failed against Flensburg at this stage, while it is Paris’ first shot at the Last 16.

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs. Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO)
Saturday, 17:30 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 25:26

Despite the win at home, Celje’s coach Branko Tamse hands over the favourite role to the German side: “Flensburg are the favourites, there is nothing else to say.”

However, 12 months ago, Celje managed to win on German ground in the Last 16, at Hamburg, but had already lost the first leg at home by nine goals.

Flensburg hope on the comeback of their boss in defence Tobias Karlsson, who missed the match in Slovenia due to injury.

“With Tobias, our defence fits much better – and this is what we lacked in the first match,” said SG coach Ljubomir Vranjes, who has mixed emotions on the result of the first match: “To lose by one goal is not bad, but also dangerous. If our fans can cause the same atmosphere as the Slovenians did in Celje, we can put our opponent under pressure.”

KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN) vs. HC Metalurg (MKD)
Sunday, 16:45 hrs. local time in Kolding, Match of the Week – first leg: 17:23

Who can stop Renato Vugrinec? KIF Kolding Kobenhavn will have to find the answer soon, after the right back had scored 13 goals in the first leg.

The left-handed ace is sure that no one can stop his team on the way to the second straight quarter-finals: “We are six goals ahead, but we have to be careful, not let the euphoria take over and start again from the beginning.”

His coach Lino Cervar is also wary: “Wining by six goals is a good advantage, but it won’t be easy playing in Denmark.”

But KIF did not only have problems in stopping Vugrinec, the new top scorer of the competition with 75 goals, but even more so in their own attack, as they failed to find a way past goalkeeper Darko Stanic often enough.

“We need a clear improvement in attack,” said coach Aron Kristjansson, who still believes in his team in the Match of the Week: “We have another 60 minutes in Denmark and we are looking forward to it.”

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs. KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL)
Monday, 19:00 hrs. local time Match of the Week Special – first leg: 28:32

Monday sees an Match of the Week Special, and a special encounter is expected.

After being down by eight goals at one point, Löwen managed to equalise, but finally lost by four goals in an entertaining affair.

“We need an atmosphere like in Kielce, we need to be pushed by our fans,” said manager Thorsten Storm, who believes that “we still have every possibility to proceed.”

“We can manage to catch a four-goal deficit,” added playmaker Andy Schmid.

Five former Löwen players (Bielecki, Szmal, Lijewski, Cupic and Tkaczyk) will be back in the SAP Arena on Monday, hoping to progress to the quarter-finals for the second straight season, but their aspirations do not end there.

“We need to play as we did in the opening period. Our fortune lies in our own hands, but it will be a tough clash,” says Kielce’s former Löwen goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal.

Vive Targi President Bertus Servaas was quoted on the club website: “Four goals are a fair advantage, and maybe an away game for us is easier to play than at home.”

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor