Veszprém and Vardar control their fateArticle
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GROUP A/B PREVIEW: Veszprém and record-breaking Vardar host the top matches of the weekend, which bring the frontrunners in each group together

Veszprém and Vardar control their fate

While the group phase of the Women’s EHF Champions League will conclude this weekend, Groups A and B in the VELUX EHF Champions League start the second half of their campaigns with Round 8 of 14 – the last but three before the winter break.

Two matches clearly headline the upcoming round, as the top-ranked sides in both groups clash in direct duels in Veszprém and Skopje. Five of eight games will be rematches of Round 7 duels.

• HC Vardar are unbeaten in the last 25 international matches
• MOL-Pick Szeged have been waiting for a home win against FC Barcelona since 2004
• Two of the top scorers in the competition, Mate Lekai and Uwe Gensheimer, clash in Veszprém
• Miha Zarabec returns to Celje with THW Kiel

Match of the Week: HC Vardar (MKD) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)
Saturday 18 November, 17:30 local time, live on

HC Vardar are on cloud nine at the moment, breaking all records. In the VELUX EHF Champions League, the defending champions have not lost any of their last 12 matches, dating to March. In the SEHA League, the Macedonian and SEHA champions just extended their winning streak to 13 matches – are Vardar unstoppable?

The last home match Vardar lost in the VELUX EHF Champions League was on November 26, 2016 – and guess which team took the points from that encounter? Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

The German title holders are travelling champions at the moment, as the game in Jane Sandanski Arena is the eighth of an overall nine away matches in a row, and so far, they did not lose a single one. The most recent results in the Champions League were a win in Szeged and a 26:26 draw in Barcelona last Sunday.

After Veszprém’s defeat in Paris last weekend, Vardar and Löwen are the only unbeaten teams in Groups A and B. Only the number of draws is different: One for Skopje, three for RNL.

Ivan Cupic, the only player to have defended a Champions League title since 2009 (2016 with Kielce, 2017 with Vardar) will face his former club, where he played from 2010 to 2012. For Löwen left back Filip Taleski, the clash will be a kind of deja vu, as the Macedonian previously played for Vardar’s local rivals Metalurg.

If Vardar add another win to their series, it might already be a hint as to which team will skip the Last 16 as winners of Group A. But as Löwen are much more stable compared to last season, another away victory for the German team is possible.

MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)
Sunday 19 November, 17:00 local time, live on

MOL-Pick Szeged have not beaten FC Barcelona on home ground for 13 years – and after the surprising home defeat against Nantes, the chance for the Hungarian runners-up against the Champions League record winners appears quite limited.

The overall balance speaks in clear favour of the visitors, who won 13 of 16 games in this traditional duel.

Szeged goalkeeper Jose Manuel Sierra will be highly motivated, facing the club with which he won the Champions League four times. Matches against Barcelona are also something special for Szeged coach Juan Carlos Pastor, who steered Spain to their first world title in 2005.

This Champions League season is something of a rollercoaster for the hosts of Sunday’s clash. They are the only ones to take a point from Vardar so far, but have lost twice at home against Nantes and Löwen. Though they are on a safe course toward the Last 16, Szeged should not let points go easily, as they have several tough away clashes in the second half of the group phase.

Additional matches:
HBC Nantes (FRA) vs HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb (CRO)
Sunday 19 November, 17:00 local time, live on
Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE)
Sunday 19 November, 18:30 local time, live on

Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Saturday 18 November, 17:30 local time, live on

Will the empire strike back or will Paris manage to take a second win exactly 363 days after conquering Veszprém Arena for the very first time? Fans can certainly expect a great show, as the 33:28 result for Paris on home ground was one of the best matches of the Champions League season so far.

In the first half and in the last 10 minutes, Paris were outstanding, but Veszprém proved that they can stand the heat in the duel of the 2015, 2016 (both Veszprém) and 2017 (PSG) runners-up.

Thanks to the win – which was Veszprém’s first defeat of the season – Paris are on top of the table now, ahead by one point. Another away victory could give PSG a perfect position for the upcoming clashes.

In the 2016/17 season, Paris were on top of their group ahead of the Hungarian record champions, who they also beat in the Champions League Semi-final in Cologne.

The top scorers for both sides, Mate Lekai (Veszprém/42) and Uwe Gensheimer (PSG/40), are currently only separated by two goals.

In domestic competitions, PSG are ranked second in France at the moment after their surprising defeat in Nimes, while Veszprém have won all their nine matches in Hungarian league so far.

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs THW Kiel (GER)
Sunday 19 November, 17:00 local time, live on

What is going on with THW Kiel? For the first time in their Champions League history, the three-time winners are below the six spots that qualify for the knock-out stage, following their sensational home defeat against Celje last Sunday.

Boosted by this result, the Slovenian side will be out for another upset, after they also beat 2016 champions Kielce in their Zlatorog Arena.

Definitely – and in contrast to the hopes in Kiel – Domagoj Duvnjak will not make his comeback on Sunday in Celje, as the Croatian is still not fit enough after his surgery in April. Both teams are equal on five points, and THW have taken only two away points so far, thanks to a lucky win in Brest. But in this close group, everything below the first three positions seems to be possible at the moment.

The match will be a special one for THW centre back Miha Zarabec, who played for Celje until last season.

Additional matches:
PGE Vive Kielce (POL) vs Aalborg Handbold (DEN)
Saturday 18 November, 16:00 local time, live on
SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs HC Meshkov Brest (BLR)
Sunday 19 November, 19:30 local time, live on

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg