Leading spot at stake as Vardar welcome VeszprémArticle
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GROUP C PREVIEW: As usual, the group of death offers a thrilling game of European handball giants. This time it is the unbeaten Vardar that take on spotless Veszprém in Skopje.

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Leading spot at stake as Vardar welcome Veszprém

There are only three flawless teams left in the VELUX EHF Champions League and Veszprém are about to put their immaculate run to a stern test in Skopje as the Hungarian champions take on Vardar.

Celje plan to make Rhein-Neckar Löwen work hard for their money even in Mannheim while Montpellier lock horns with Chekhovskie Medvedi, who are still chasing their first points in the competition.

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO)
Thursday 13 November at 19.30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

Löwen broke their run of two consecutive defeats but the game against Medvedi was no walk in the park either as the home side needed a strong second half to beat the Russian champions after a 16:16 scoreline at the break. In the meantime Celje lost to Veszprém at home but the Slovenian team put up an outstanding performance against their old rivals.

Löwen cannot afford to lose a home game since that would mean the Bundesliga leaders can practically wave goodbye to the first two spots of the group and approaching "half-time” of the group phase means there is no room for slip-ups. The same goes for Celje, who would make a big step towards the knockout stage if they manage to win in Mannheim.

Celje, however, are clearly the underdog in the fixture so the pressure will be on the home side. The Slovenian team travel to away games with swords drawn, they scored 29 in Montpellier and 35 in Chekhov while Löwen scored 35 (vs. Montpellier) and 34 (vs. Medvedi) so expect a goal-feast on Thursday.

The two teams played six games so far, each and every one of them was won by Löwen. The closest Celje ever got to beat the Germans was in 2010 when they lost by a single goal (33:32).
HC Vardar (MKD) vs MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN)
Saturday 15 November at 19.00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

Although Vardar were just a marvellous Sterbik save away from their first defeat in Montpellier they remained unbeaten thus the leading spot of the group of death will still be at stake when the Macedonian runners-up welcome MKB-MVM Veszprém.

The two teams already met this season as Veszprém gave a thorough beating to their opponent in the SEHA League (31:23) but it is not only the venue that will be different on Saturday. This time Vardar will have their full squad at Raul Gonzalez’s disposal and the jam packed Jane Sandanski hall will turn on the heat for the visitors.

While Laszlo Nagy is still doubtful the world class right back will travel with the Veszprém squad. Coach Antonio Carlos Ortega knows it will take a combined team effort to remain unbeaten after their visit to Skopje but the home side already knows they have to spare extra energy to stop Momir Ilic, who seems unstoppable this year, too. Last year’s Champions League top scorer is leading the scorers’ list (Vardar’s Timur Dibirov is trailing by two goals) and found the net 12 times when Vardar travelled to Veszprém in September.

The winner of this huge clash will lead the group at least for a week as the two teams meet again in the next round. Vardar and Veszprém met just once before, more than a decade ago Veszprém won both matches in the group matches.
Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA) vs Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS)
Sunday 16 November at 17.45 hrs local times, live on ehfTV

Montpellier took a horrible start to the season but since they lost in Mannheim by 11 goals the French team is climbing back to the level of their usual excellence. Their awful first half against Celje marked their revival, after beating the Slovenian outfit they fought all the way in Veszprém and lost by only a single goal before they went really close to beat Vardar.

Chekhovskie feel the impact of a year-long absence from the top flight of European handball but the team’s true potential is shown by their excellent attacking skills. In this very difficult group, where the Russians are still struggling for their first win, only Vardar scored more goals than Medvedi, who can always rely on marksman Alexander Dereven.

As the form of the French outfit is getting better now the time has come to start shipping results, too. Montpellier have the chance to catch up with Löwen while Medvedi should start causing upsets to favourite opponents if they do not want to wave goodbye to their chances of qualifying to the knockout stages.

Montpellier and Medvedi have met no less than 14 times with mixed results, but the last time the two teams met (2012/13) Medvedi snatched a point in Montpellier.

TEXT: Bence Martha / br