Crunch time in the group of deathArticle
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GROUP C PREVIEW: Veszprém hopped the stick but no less than four European heavyweights lock horns for qualification spots behind the leaders in Group C.

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Crunch time in the group of death

It is not an overstatement to claim the seventh round of Group C to be a matter of life and death for almost all participants. The round brings yet another Match of the week as Montpellier try to leapfrog Löwen, while the young Celje side venture to Skopje hoping to cause an upset for Vardar. Veszprém sit comfortably on top and play host to Medvedi, who arrive to keep their hopes of reaching the last 16 alive.

Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)
Saturday 29 November at 21.00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

While neither the course nor the result can be predicted there is only one thing for sure about this huge Match of the Week: Montpellier and Löwen will fight tooth and nail until the last drop of sweat.

There is a lot at stake in Montpellier, where the home side will have a chance not only to take a big step towards the last 16 but to leapfrog Löwen while the German outfit can practically put the issue of qualification beyond doubt with a victory.

Löwen gave Montpellier a thorough beating in the first round but a lot has happened since September. The German team still have the lead in the Bundesliga, however, due to their wacky Champions League form the Mannheim outfit are still struggling to seal a place in the last 16.

Montpellier are just as unpredictable, the home side are able to put up great performances (such as against Vardar and Veszprém) but can also throw away points easily as they did against Medvedi at home.

Montpellier are one of the highest scoring teams in the VELUX EHF Champions League but in order to beat Löwen the home side will have to tighten their defence as they let in 32 goals in average. Löwen need to be more focused, with as many technical mistakes they had against Celje in the last two rounds they do not stand a chance to beat Montpellier in France.

The last time the two giants met in Montpellier Löwen flattened the home side with a huge nine-goal victory (35:26).

HC Vardar (MKD) vs Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO)
Saturday 29 November at 19.00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

Fresh from beating Löwen the young Celje side are eager to continue their excellent run against Vardar, who fell short in the double clash against leaders Veszprém. Vardar were unlucky not to catch Veszprém at home but seemed helpless away, while Celje put up yet another great performance against Löwen, whom they beat at home to keep their qualification hopes alive.

It is almost impossible to win in one of the most intimidating arenas of the VELUX EHF Champions League, however, Celje pose a serious threat even away from home as shown by their earlier outputs in Mannheim and Montpellier, where they had the lead at the break. Vardar had considerable difficulties putting down Celje in Slovenia in the first round but Timur Dibirov and Alex Dujshebaev decided the game for the visitors.

The youngest outfit of the competition is also one of the most exciting teams, if Celje are allowed to play their game the young squad can cause upsets to even the biggest names of the game. Vardar being one of the mentioned are still favourites to win but need to be aware of the fact that snubbing Celje can prove lethal.

Saturday’s clash will be the debut for Celje in Vardar’s fortress, the magnificent Jane Sandanski.  

MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN) vs Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS)
Saturday, 29 November at 18.15 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

High flying Veszprém welcome a Chekhov outfit that now need to perform miracles in order to reach the knockout stages. The Hungarian champions are still unbeaten in Group C and can practically seal the first spot with a win over their Russian counterpart.

Medvedi are clearly the underdog and the visitors’ excellent attacking skills (they average 30 goals per game) will be put to a stern test by one of the greatest defences of the VELUX EHF Champions League. The massive Veszprém wall backed by the excellent Roland Mikler had only one blackout this season, which happened to be in Chekhov in the first round, when Alexander Dereven and his team managed to surprise Veszprém but the visitors still emerged as winners.

Veszprém are heavy favourites to win this fixture but Medvedi are capable of putting up great performances away from home, just like they did in Montpellier a fortnight ago. However, Veszprém are aware that avoiding a slip-up against Medvedi would get them within easy reach of finishing in the first spot three rounds to go.

The last time Medvedi travelled to Veszprém the home side edged past their visitors with a hard-fought 24:22 win in 2011.

TEXT: Bence Martha / br