Kiel on the verge of Last 16 as five below keep huntingArticle
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GROUP A PREVIEW: THW Kiel can book their knockout stage berth when they host Zagreb on Wednesday, PSG can edge closer as they are odds-on favourites at home to HC Metalurg while Brest and La Rioja are heading for a dogfight to avoid an early exit in Group A.

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Kiel on the verge of Last 16 as five below keep hunting

Buzzing after their double win over Paris Saint-Germain handball, Kiel will be raring to avenge their only defeat in this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League so far when they meet Zagreb at home in the group’s opening round seven fixture on Wednesday,

Reeling after a narrow defeat at Zagreb, Brest have to pull their socks up and beat La Rioja at home if they are to keep alive realistic hopes of advancing to the last 16, with the Spanish side also looking for redemption after handing Metalurg their first points of the campaign.

Finally, PSG have the perfect opportunity to bounce back from their double fiasco against Kiel when they host the Macedonian title holders and thus move a step closer to the knockout rounds.
THW Kiel (GER) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Wednesday 26 November at 18.30 hrs local time, life on ehfTV

There is no respite for Kiel after their impressive double win over PSG as they are up against the only team who beat them in Europe’s premier club competition this term.

Having suffered a shock defeat in their opening fixture at Zagreb, Kiel then won five in a row, meaning that victory against the Croatian title holders on home court would seal their passage into the knockout stages.

Still without left back Filip Jicha and playmaker Aron Palmarsson, Kiel are nonetheless strong favourites to win the tie and book their berth with three games to spare.

The depth of their impressive roster was everywhere to be seen against PSG with Domagoj Duvnjak and right back Marko Vujin running the show in attack while line player Rene Toft Hansen marshaled the defence with some aplomb.

Zagreb will be buoyed by a gritty home win against Brest which left them in a good position to qualify and the fact that they produce their best performances when devoid of any pressure could make this a tricky fixture.  

Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)
Saturday 29 November at 16.00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

If they are to hang on to their bid of reaching the business end of the competition, Meshkov must win this difficult home game against one of their direct rivals.

Defeat or even a draw would put the Belarus champions in a difficult position, after they missed a chance to come away with something from a tough outing at Zagreb where their late comeback fell short.

La Rioja too will be kicking themselves for dropping two precious points at HC Metalurg, handing the Macedonian outfit a lifeline win which has, at least theoretically, kept them in the hunt for a last 16 berth.

With so much at stake, this one has the makings of a cup tie and should be a fascinating fixture to watch.

Meshkov will rely on the great form of their Serbian pivot Rastko Stojkovic while the visitors are likely to bank on the shooting prowess of Thiago Goncalves, Pedro Rodriguez and Juan Garcia Lorenzana, who combined for 16 of their 28 goals at Metalurg.

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) vs HC Metalurg (MKD)
Sunday 30 November at 19.00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

This match should be a cat-and-mouse game anyway you look at it but Metalurg may just make a fight of it after a spirited performance against La Rioja was rewarded with a 29:28 win against the Spanish side, their first in the Champions League this term.

The heroics of Naumce Mojsovski and Renato Vugrinec, who scored 21 goals between them, inspired the Macedonian champions but against PSG they will need much more from the rest of the team if they are to stand any chance of holding their own.

PSG, on the other hand, are licking their wounds after a double defeat in two titanic clashes against Kiel and will see this game as perfect chance to restore some of their dented pride and confidence.

With Thierry Omeyer back in goal and Mikkel Hansen firing on all cylinders, there is little doubt the French outfit will want to win by a huge margin while coach Philippe Gardent will expect the rest of his troops to play up to their potentials too.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br