Kiel seeking redemption as PSG brace for ZagrebArticle
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GROUP A PREVIEW: Kiel have little room for error after a surprise defeat by Zagreb while the Croatian champions now face a daunting visit to Paris Saint-Germain in the second round of the Group Phase.

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Kiel seeking redemption as PSG brace for Zagreb

The opening round of the VELUX EHF Champions League in Group A produced superb handball and the shock of the week as THW Kiel slumped to a 27:25 at Zagreb, who will be heading to Paris with their tails up after a magnificent performance against one of Europe’s giants.

The German champions, on the other hand, have a perfect opportunity to bounce back when they entertain Spanish rivals Naturhouse La Rioja in the second round’s opening match on Thursday.

PSG, comfortable winners over FYR Macedonia’s HC Metalurg, will be wary of Zagreb’s potential but confident in notching up a second successive win after a mature performance in Skopje. Metalurg face a tricky visit to Meshkov Brest in a must-win game for both sides, aiming to pick up precious points that would edge either of them closer to a top-four finish in a finely balanced group.
THW Kiel (GER) vs Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)  
Thursday 2 October, 19.30 hrs local time, live on

The winners of three Champions League titles and five-time runners-up in Europe’s premier club competition could hardly have imagined a rougher start to this season’s campaign, having thrown away a four-goal half-time lead at Zagreb as they were played off the court in the second half.

Not having captain and top scorer Filip Jicha, who will be sidelined for at least six weeks with an ankle surgery, certainly did not help their cause but no one in the German side’s camp was looking for excuses after the Croatian outfit celebrated their first win over Kiel since 2002.

Danish pivot Rene Toft Hansen, who is standing in for Jicha as captain, acknowledged the team needed to close their ranks in the face of adversity.

“The game in Zagreb was certainly not a dream start for me as captain but I know that when the going gets tough, the tough get going,” Toft told the club’s official website (

“The new players need time to blend in but we are also aware that we have to improve quickly. Against La Rioja, we are also counting on our fans to be a factor,” he said.

The Spanish side will be buoyed by a smooth attacking performance against Brest but their coach Jesus Javier Fernandez pointed out it was too early to rest on laurels.

“It will be a big challenge for us to reach the Last 16,” he said. “Paris and Kiel are the group favourites while Metalurg are strong too, but Zagreb’s win over Kiel shows just how tight the race for a knockout stage berth will be.”

“Either way, this is a great adventure for our club which has a very young history,” added Fernandez.

HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs HC Metalurg (MKD)
Saturday 4 October, 18.00 hrs local time, live on

Having played their hearts out in a bid to upset PSG, Metalurg came up empty-handed on home court against the rising force of European handball boasting a myriad of tried and tested household names.

The long trip to Belarus could be a different prospect though as the Macedonian team knows only too well that a second successive defeat would dent their hopes of reaching the Last 16, especially as they are up against a side that also cannot afford to drop points at home.

Despite the 27:22 defeat by PSG, Metalurg’s Croatian coach Lino Cervar was proud of his team’s battling performance and looking forward to the rest of the campaign.

“There is no shame in losing to a side of PSG’s potential,” Cervar told Metalurg’s official website ( “If they had Nikola Karabatic too, the club would represent literally the entire French national team and we held our own for the best part of the match,” he added.

Brest were also licking their wounds following a 39:31 defeat at La Rioja in which a fairly prolific attacking performance was blotted by a flurry of turnovers and porous defending, a shortcoming the Belarus champions will have to rectify quickly if they are to stand any chance against Metalurg.

“We played poorly in attack and with this kind of performance it is impossible to win a game at this level,” Meshkov coach Zeljko Babic told a press conference.

“We made too many technical errors and also conceded 39 goals, probably because this was our first match in the group stage. But this is just the beginning of our road in the Champions League, there are many games to go and our immediate task is to prepare for the battle with Metalurg.”  

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Sunday 5 October, 19.00 hrs local time, live on

Very few pundits would have billed this game as a derby when the groups were drawn but Zagreb’s impressive first-round win over Kiel has raised hopes that their clash against the mighty PSG could produce a Champions League classic.

The expensively assembled French outfit lived up to expectations on the opening day, carving out a convincing win at Metalurg on one of the most difficult away courts in Europe, hence they will head into the match with Zagreb as strong favourites.

A rock-solid defence led by Thierry Omeyer stifled out Metalurg while a plethora of superstars shared the scoring workload in attack, although left back Mikkel Hansen stood out with six goals.

Zagreb, whose sharpshooter Stipe Mandalinic is still battling to recover from injury, were quickly brought down to earth from their exploits against Kiel as they suffered a 32:29 defeat at Macedonian powerhouse Vardar Skopje in the regional SEHA league.  

Zagreb coach Veselin Vujovic, who will serve out at PSG his Champions League ban dating back to 2012 when he coached Vardar with great success, received an emotional reception from the home fans but in the French capital he will once again have to rely on his assistant Zlatko Saracevic.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br