Favourites unlikely to stumble in second legArticle
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LAST 16 PREVIEW – PART 1: Possible surprises in the second leg do not seem to be coming from the first against fourth placed encounters

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Favourites unlikely to stumble in second leg

Handball fans crazy about surprises should probably not look to the return matches of the ties between the group winners and the fourth placed teams to find any sensations in the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

In all four ties, the group winners are on a steady course towards the quarter-finals ahead of the second leg this weekend.

The closest tie is between KS Vive Tauron Kielce and Montpellier Agglomeration HB, which Kielce are leading by four goals after their 29:25 win in France last weekend.

MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN) vs Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)
Saturday 21 March at 16:30 hrs local time live on ehfTV
First leg 31:23

With Veszprém eight goals up after the first match in Spain, the return match looks like a formality, not least as Veszprém practically never lose at Veszprém Arena.

It is impossible to see how the Hungarian champions should not easily proceed to the quarter-finals.

Still, Veszprém´s Spanish coach Carlos Ortega does not want to see his team relax in any way for the home game on Saturday afternoon.

“We play at home, so our goal is very obvious. We would like to continue our good series in the Champions League, win the game and get into the next round.

“We respect La Rioja very much, as there are a great team, but only the victory is acceptable for us.

“We had a great result in Logrono, but we must still improve in our attack,” Carlos Ortega told efhCL.com.

La Rioja coach Jesus Gonzalez Fernandez realises that the adventure is more or less over for his team.

“At home Veszprém are a very good team. This will be the match which shows us that the round is over for us. We must fight until the end, though, because in sport anything can happen,” said Fernandez.

KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) vs Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA)
Saturday 21 March at 15:30 hrs local time live on ehfTV
First leg 29:25

In this tie, we experience the lowest margin between the two teams ahead of the second leg.

Still, it is the home team and group winners in the lead with those four goals and that obviously makes Kielce huge favourites.

Having lost by four goals in spite of the support of 6,000 spectators at home, it is hard to see how the French team is going to be able to turn the tables in Poland.

The recipe for Montpellier seems to be based on a solid effort in the defence and benefitting from this to get some counter attacks and goals through their speedy Slovenian right wing Dragan Gajic, but the French team’s chances are not big.

At least Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer has not given up the hope to reach the quarter-finals.

“We must be patient with this team. We must be less naïve and more tactically disciplined to hope to go further,” Canayer said.

FC Barcelona (ESP) vs Aalborg Handball (DEN)
Sunday 22 March at 18:50 hrs local time live on ehfTV
First leg 31:11

Apart from a flawless match by Barcelona, the most impressive performance in the first leg was provided by the 4,666 spectators in the Jutlander Bank Arena in Aalborg, who gave their local team standing applause during the final seconds of the huge defeat the home team was running into.

The Barcelona win on Sunday was the biggest win in a Last 16 match in the history of the EHF Champions League.

The previous record also belonged to Barcelona who defeated ASKÖ Linde Linz from Austria 35:17 in the Palau Blaugrana in the second leg of the Last 16 on 18. November 1995.

“We played our best match so far this season, and being 20 goals up, you can say that we are on to the next round, but we still have to play the return match with respect for our opponents and for the spectators who come to the Palau Blaugrana to watch us play,” Nikola Karabatic said.

As reward for the convincing performance, coach Xavi Pascual gave his players two days off from training. That was not the case in Aalborg.

“We have to look into the mirror and believe much more in our own qualities. We know we can do better than that. We will simply have to go to Barcelona and prove that we can do better,” Aalborg coach Jesper Jensen said.

THW Kiel (GER) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
Sunday 22 March at 19:30 hrs local time live on ehfTV
First leg 30.21

Sunday's final match is another which looks like a formality, thanks to Kiel’s nine-goal lead going into the second leg on home court.

Local derbies are usually hard to predict and this also applies to these North German derbies between Kiel and Flensburg, but still it is hard to see how the defending champions from Flensburg should be able to stay in the tournament Sunday night’s match in the Sparkassen-Arena.

Nevertheless, Kiel coach Alfred Gislason promises the home crowd that they will finish the job on Sunday.

“We owe them that, and besides, we definitely do not want to lose against Flensburg in our own hall,” Gislason told the club’s official website.

Flensburg coach Ljubomir Vranjes wants to see at least some improvement in his team in the match in Kiel.

“In any case, we want to do better in the return match. I want to see some development,” Vranjes said.

TEXT: Peter Bruun / cor