PSG on top while Veszprém edge SG and Zagreb enter Last 16Article
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GROUP A REVIEW: French champions make a big step towards the last eight of Europe’s premier club competition with a classy win; Veszprém come from two down to win by plus one away; Celje out of the Last 16 race after unlucky defeat in Croatian capital

PSG on top while Veszprém edge SG and Zagreb enter Last 16

Paris-Saint Germain Handball are one win away from clinching Group A and thus securing a quarter-final berth, after a majestic performance at Orlen Wisla Plock gave them an emphatic win in Poland.

MVM Veszprém came from behind in an intense encounter to take full points against German side SG Flensburg-Handewitt, meaning the Veszprém move to second behind PSG.

And thanks to a thrilling 24:23 win against Celje, RK PPD Zagreb have finally clinched their Last 16 berth, giving Orlen Wisla Plock a lift to the next stage, and eliminating Celje.

All of this confirmes the final ranking positions four to eight in Group A after the penultimate round.

Kiel will finish in fourth position and are set to face the fifth ranked team of Group B in the Last 16, Zagreb have sealed position five to face fourth ranked team of Group B, Plock will duel with the third ranked team of Group B as the sixth in Group A.

For Celje (7th) and Besiktas (8th) their VELUX EHF Champions League will come to an end with their respective final group match next weekend.

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) 22:27 (12:16)

The final round of games in Group A of the men’s VELUX EHF Champions League is set to produce an enthralling climax, after PSG jumped into the driving seat with a comprehensive 27:22 victory at Wisla.

The French giants lead the section on 22 points from 13 games, one ahead of Hungarian rivals Veszprém who stunned German rivals Flensburg 29:28 and moved one place up to second.

A win in their last home game against Flensburg - who are now third, two points off the pace - guarantees PSG the group’s top spot but a draw would allow Veszprém to leapfrog them on a better head-to-head record, if they beat Wisla at home in their final match.

PSG’s defeat to Flensburg would leave the door wide open to Veszprém to win the section, while the possibility of all three teams finishing on 22 points (in case Flensburg beat PSG and Veszprem draw with Wisla) would also mean the Hungarian side finish top with the best head-to-head record.

Playing untypically strong defence in Poland, PSG brushed aside Wisla after the home side overcame an early 3:0 deficit.

With the score 5:5, the visitors stepped up the pressure and carved out a 9:7 lead as winger Luc Abalo tormented his markers, before finding another gear to pull away to 16:11 at the interval.

Following Abalo’s darting runs on the right flank early on, backs Mikkel Hansen and Nikola Karabatic took over the mantle and scored five goals each in the opening period.

The home side launched a spirited comeback early in the second half, slashing the deficit to 16:14 and then to 20:17 before they ran out of steam against an ironclad PSG rear guard.

The French side thrived in a physical contest littered with fouls, as the size of their pack made the difference in defence while the individual attacking skill of their top players ripped through the home side.

The unstoppable Hansen led PSG with eight goals from 11 shots as he remained the competition’s top scorer with a milestone 100 goals, while Karabatic added seven from 10 attempts.

Daniel Narcisse had a fine game with five goals from eight shots and Abalo added four from six.

Wisla shared their workload in attack, with Jose Guilherme De Toledo and Dan Emil Racotea bagging five goals each for the home team.

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs MVM Veszprém (HUN) 28:29 (12:10)

Thanks to clear improvement after the break, MVM Veszprém ended the winning streak of SG Flensburg-Handewitt with a thrilling victory decided on the final buzzer.

The Hungarian side therefore passed the Germans on the table ranking, after the hosts won their previous nine group matches.

It was a combination of the Laszlo Nagy (nine goals) and Gasper Marguc (eight) duo, the visitors’ defence and Mirko Alilovic’s improved performance in the final 20 minutes that sealed the deal, while on Flensburg’s side, only Rasmus Lauge Schmidt (eight goals) played on the top level for 60 minutes.

“We played much more disciplined in attack and were faster after the break – this was one reason we won,” said Icelandic playmaker Aron Palmarsson. “If we win our final group match against Plock and Flensburg win at Paris, we are the group winners, which would be brilliant.”

Flensburg impressed the Hungarian side with a rock-solid middle block in the first half. Kresimir Kozina and Tobias Karlsson were like a wall of concrete, and behind them Mattias Andersson had a save percentage of 47 until minute 28. The famous Veszprém strikers Momir Ilic and Palmarsson (each with one goal from six attempts) therefore had a lacklustre performance in attack.


Flensburg profitted from their solid defence to march ahead easily to a constant three-goal advantage from the point the score board showed 5:2 on. Veszprém coach Xavier Sabate tried everything, but was hit hard when Nagy (so far their best shooter) had to leave the court in minute 25 with a groin injury.

On the other side, Rasmus Lauge continued with the incredible form he has displayed for weeks, and his team had the opportunity to sit even further ahead than only 12:10 at the break.

The punishment for those missed chances followed swiftly. Xabate found the right words in the dressing room, and his team now defended exactly like Flensburg did before the break. Timuzsin Schuch was a rock on the Hungarian side’s line, directing the Veszprém defenders throughout the strong second period.

Backed by this clearly improved defence Veszprém put enormous pressure on Flensburg’s attackers, who then became nervous.

Veszprém’s Slovenian right wing Marguc profited the most from the home team’s attacking errors. After scoring just two goals before the break, he was like a machine, adding five more strikes to his tally within only 14 minutes and missing no shots.

Marguc was the key, the defence and goalkeeper Mirko Alilovic the turning point, and when Nagy returned to the court, clenching his teeth despite some pain, it was clear Flensburg were in trouble.

At 18:17 Veszprém took the lead again – and they held on through to the final buzzer.

When they trailed by three goals for the first time at 18:21, Flensburg coach Ljubomir Vranjes took his first time-out after which his side reduced to only one goal at 23:24, 26:27 and 28:29.

18 seconds before the end, Veszprém caused a turnover and Flensburg had the final attack. Lauge made a shot, which was saved by Alilovic, and a final direct free-throw was called for Flensburg. But Kentin Mahe could not convert and it was Veszprém that jumped for joy, knowing that they still have the chance to finish on top of the group.

“We missed too many chances against a world-class team, and we could not manage to score those easy goals we made before the break,” Vranjes explained his reasons for the defeat – but his hopes for the final match are not broken: “We do not travel to Paris to lose.”

HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb (CRO) vs RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) 24:23 (8:9)

The first half was the third lowest scoring 30 minutes in the whole group phase.

Only fans at Presov vs La Rioja (8:6) and Kielce vs Vardar (10:6) saw less goals then those 17 in Zagreb on Saturday night.

From the first minute on, both sides focussed on defence, and both sides had the bigger will to avoid goals than to score them.

The only two-goal gap between the sides before the break was Celje’s 2:0, as Zagreb nearly needed seven minutes to net their first.

The lead changed hands constantly as the fans witnessed a private shooting duel between Mandalinic (Zagreb) and Ziga Mlakar (Celje), in which the Croat was on fire right after the break netting four times from four attempts in only eight minutes.

Mlakar was Celje’s top scorer with seven goals.

After the break, the sides had found their way in attack, and they only needed 14 minutes to pull it level at 17:17.

Right after this deadlock, Zagreb took the upper hand.

Even being shorthanded and after Stevanovic saved Blaz Janc's penalty, Mandalinic netted his seventh goal from seven attempts to secure the first two-goal advantage for his side at 19:17.

And another Mandalinic double made it 21:18.

Zagreb did, however, fail to decide the match early; with the score reading 24:21 Luka Rakovic missed a sitter on the break, keeping their fans on the edges of their seats.

Finally, Ivan Gajic saved Luka Sebetic’s attempt ten seconds before the end, gave his team one last attack, but Zvizej failed to find the net.

The man of the match in Zagreb had to go to Stipe Mandalinic, who netted ten times for Zagreb without missing a single chance.

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / Zoran Milosavljevic / cg / bc