La Rioja seek win to join Montpellier in play-offsArticle
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GROUP C PREVIEW: While Montpellier need one more point to be assured of the No. 1 position in the group, La Rioja can join the French side in the play-offs by beating Metalurg.

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La Rioja seek win to join Montpellier in play-offs

Ahead of Round 9, no team in VELUX EHF Champions League Group C have been left without at least a mathematical chance to reach the play-offs.

Leaders Montpellier have already done so. Most eyes this weekend will be on La Rioja, which need a win against Metalurg to clinch the second play-off spot with a round to spare.

  • Montpellier need just one point to secure top spot in the group

  • La Rioja seek victory against Metalurg to reach play-offs

  • Elverum, Presov will know about their play-off chances before throw-off Sunday


Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs Montpellier HB (FRA)
Saturday, 16:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

With the play-off berth in hands, Montpellier visit Chekhovskie Medvedi to confirm their leadership in the group. Even if runners-up La Rioja win their last two matches, Montpellier just need one draw to secure the top spot.

The French team have lost only one out of 10 matches in the domestic league (against PSG), and they are on a five-game winning streak in the Champions League. They are only two wins away from matching their longest winning run in 2003/04.

On Saturday, Montpellier will have to do without Slovenian line player Miha Zvivej, who failed to obtain a visum for Russia due to a passport issue.

Chekhovskie Medvedi are still fighting for second place in the group. They need to win both their remaining matches and hope for favourable results elsewhere.

Vladimir Maximov‘s men suffer from inconsistent performances. After their shock win at La Rioja, they put in an unconvincing display at home against Elverum.

Montpellier are the most frequent opponent of Chekhovskie Medvedi. However, the Bears have won only three of their previous 17 outings, while Montpellier have won 11.

Chekhov face an uphill task against an opponent consisting of 11 players who will feature at the IHF World Championship in France next month.

Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs HC Metalurg (MKD)
Saturday, 17:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

After back-to-back defeats against Chekhovskie Medvedi and Montpellier, it is time for La Rioja to turn things around. If they beat Metalurg, they are through to the play-offs, no matter the other results in the group.

Trailing La Rioja by one point, Metalurg are no favourites but this can be an advantage for them.

Coach Lino Cervar must cope with missing the injured Filip Kuzmanovski, who underwent hand surgery and has also been ruled out of the world championship.

"I am crying because of Kuzmanovski. It is a big blow for the club," Cervar said.

Metalurg will count on another Filip in their squad _ Filip Taleski. He scored 10 goals last week to raise his total this campaign to 38, one less than Nemanja Obradovic. Metalurg will rely on these two youngsters in their battle for points in Spain.

Metalurg have the less productive attack but also the best defence. They are the only side in the group with less than 200 goals scored, and the only one with less than 200 conceded.

La Rioja struggle defensively: With 231 they conceded the most goals in the group albeit having the second best attack, where they rely on Haniel Langaro in the back court and fast left wing Angel Fernandez.

La Rioja are one defeat short of their longest losing run of three games.

It will be interesting to see whether Metalurg coach Cervar will count once again on the extra seventh player in attack to put pressure on the opponent up front, something Presov and Elverum could not deal with in the last two games.

Elverum Handball (NOR) vs TATRAN Presov (SVK)
Sunday, 15:45 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

Group C’s final match of the year 2016 will take place in Norway on Sunday afternoon. By then, Elverum and Presov will already know if they still have hopes of reaching the play-offs.

Elverum grabbed a surprising yet deserved win in Russia last week with Tamas Ivancsik being on fire with nine goals.

On the other hand, Presov were disappointed by their 26:20 defeat in Skopje, which dealt a huge blow to their play-off chances. Goalkeeper Igor Chupryna remains the hero of their campaign so far: In Skopje he did not concede a goal in the opening ten minutes despite Presov’s defence not working well.

Elverum will step on the court with confidence, enjoying their most successful year. They have become a regular Champions League contender, able to beat anyone in the group. Also, they lead the domestic league unbeaten and play the Nowegian cup final later this month.

Elverum won the first match 27:25 in Presov in October as Ivancsik scored seven times.

No matter the result on Sunday, both clubs have shown improvement since last year. Presov is far more competitive in the group, while Elverum have became a threat to any opponent in Europe.

TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / ew