La Rioja to defend top spot against Presov in tight Group CArticle
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GROUP C PREVIEW: Leaders La Rioja want to keep their strong start to the season going when hosting Presov, while Chekhovskie eye their maiden win against Metalurg after two straight draws

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La Rioja to defend top spot against Presov in tight Group C

VELUX EHF Champions League Group C has been off to a close start, with leaders La Rioja and bottom-placed Elverum separated by just two points going into this week’s Round 3.

  • Chekhovskie Medvedi are the only side to have earned two identical 28:28 draws in the first two rounds.

  • Metalurg’s Filip Taleski leads the scorer list with 17 goals from two matches.

  • Will Presov coach Rastislav Trtík use a 4-2 defence against La Rioja again?

  • Elverum look to move from the bottom of the table by beating Montpellier.

Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs Metalurg Skopje (MKD)
Thursday, 19:00 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

Chekhovskie Medvedi earned their second straight 28:28 draw last week, while HC Metalurg lost a 9:2 lead and were beaten by Tatran Presov 27:22.

The teams met previously in 2006, when Chekhovskie won both encounters to advance to the Last 16.

Among the players who remember these ties are Medvedi captain Dmitry Kovalev, who scored six goals in the home match, and Alexander Chernoivanov.

Main problem for Chekhovskie is keeping concentration for the full 60 minutes.

"We need to work the whole match to be able to win," Chekhovskie coach Vladimir Maximov said.

Metalurg had the same problem in Presov. Centre back Nemanja Obradovic urged his team mates not to drop concentration, saying "in these meetings we have to be focused for the whole 60 minutes."

Biggest task for Chekhovskie will be stopping Filip Taleski. Presov have shown them it is possible.

Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs Tatran Presov (SVK)
Saturday, 17:30 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

La Rioja top Group C after beating the only former Champions League winners in the group, Montpellier (31:30).

The Spanish team won both encounters against Presov last season, with Angel Perez scoring 14 goals in the home game.

Main threat for the hosts should come from Oliver Rábek in back court and Jakub Hrstka on the left wing, who directed the win against Metalurg last week.

On the other side, Mohamed Sanad on the right wing and right back Luis Jimenez were on fire for La Rioja last week, but how will they cope with the defensive tactics of Presov?

Coach Rastislav Trtik gave a tactical masterclass against Metalurg. He took a timeout halfway through the first half when his team trailed Metalurg by 9:2, changed the defence from 5-1 to 4-2 and suddenly Presov got the upperhand.

"We have two points, which gives us confidence ahead of the La Rioja clash," line player Leon Vučko said. "We do our best to play even better than against Metalurg and surprise them getting a good result."

In an attempt to save energy for the match, Presov will fly to Spain. To Montpellier, the team took a bus.

Elverum Handball (NOR) vs Montpellier HB (FRA)
Sunday, 18:15 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

Montpellier, coming off a one-goal defeat at La Rioja, have their second consecutive game on the road. A good test for the French side, should they really contest for the top spot in the group.

It will be the first encounter between the teams.

Known for their modern handball, Elverum under coach Michael Apelgren have effectively implemented the new rule for using an extra player.

Apelgren was disappointed by the draw against Chekhovskie, and knows his team could have easily been on the other side of the table. There is a thin line between success and failure.

"We should have taken one point from Metalurg and two against Chekhovskie," Apelgren says.

Also, Apelgren calls for discipline, emphasising the moment when Nikokaj Mehl received his second two-minute suspension for showing his dissent.

Montpellier were upset by the narrow defeat away to La Rioja, their second one-goal defeat in a row after also losing to Ivry (30:29) in the French league.

"Both matches against Ivry and La Rioja were similar. We lacked mental strength after 10, 15 minutes," Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer said. "Our players really have the desire to do well."

TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / ew