Vardar can seal top spot, six teams fight for two placesArticle
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GROUP A/B PREVIEW: Celje and Aalborg can eliminate each other in the direct duel, while Vranjes returns to Flensburg

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Vardar can seal the top spot, six teams fight for two places

It is crunch time in the VELUX EHF Champions League. In the penultimate round of the Group A/B group phase, two of the three available places can be taken: On one hand, defending champions HC Vardar can finally confirm the top position in Group A in the top match at HBC Nantes, while HC Meshkov Brest can book the final Last 16 spot in Group B, in which Paris Saint-Germain are already confirmed as group winners.

The sixth position in Group A will finally be decided in the 14th and final round, as Orlen Wisla Plock, HC PPD Zagreb and IFK Kristianstad are currently all on six points.

GROUP A

MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs. HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)

Saturday 24 February, 17:30hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

Thanks to their sensational win against Nantes in Round 12, Zagreb still have their fate in their hands. Having the last group match on home ground against Kristianstad - one of the direct contenders for the Last 16 spot - the Croatian record champions can make it to the knockout stage again.

Szeged won the reverse fixture at Zagreb 28:23, but since then the coach of PPD has changed, and Zagreb have taken their only two wins to date. But still, the visitors wait for their first away win in this Champions League season, their only positive outcome so far is a draw at Kristianstad.

Szeged on the other hand have already qualified for the Last 16, their only motivation is to overtake Rhein-Neckar Löwen and finish fourth, but they do not have their fate in their own hands, being three points below the German champions after their defeat against Vardar in Round 12.

Szeged are ahead by 5:4 in all-time matches between themselves and Zagreb, with two matches ending in draws.

HBC Nantes (FRA) vs. HC Vardar (MKD)

Sunday 25 February, 17:00hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

This match had the makings of a true top-of-the-table clash in the already sold-out Halle de la Trocardiere, but after losing at Zagreb, even a victory against Vardar is not enough for Nantes to take the lead in this group.

The defending champions are three points ahead, thus, a draw is already enough for the team of Raul Gonzalez to claim the group win. Vardar beat Nantes 26:22 at home, which was the first ever battle between the sides.

Nantes and Vardar both count on extremely strong wings, who were the top scorers in the previous matches; Spanish EHF EURO champion David Balaguer for the hosts and Russian Timur Dibirov for Vardar.

Vardar have only lost one group match - at Barcelona - so far. In their respective domestic competitions they have seen contrasting results, while Vardar are unbeaten leader of the SEHA Liga, Nantes are already eight points behind first placed Montpellier in the French league.

Nantes’ Spaniards Balaguer and Eduardo Gurbindo will face fellow countrymen in Vardar’s Arpad Sterbik and Joan Canellas, with whom they took the EHF EURO crown.

 

Elsewhere in GROUP A:

IFK Kristianstad (SWE) vs. FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)

Saturday 24 February, 16:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs. Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)

Sunday 25 February, 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

 

GROUP B

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs. Aalborg Handbold (DEN)

Saturday 24 February, 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

It is the do-or-die match for both sides, which are equal on five points, three points below Meshkov Brest. If Celje and Aalborg tie on Saturday, Brest have clinched their Last 16 berth regardless of other results.

Aalborg won the first match 32:30, but have taken only one away point so far, a draw at Brest. The Danes will host Flensburg in their last group match, while Celje have to travel to Veszprem, thus, the hurdles are extremely high for both of them to pass Meshkov, though the Belorusian champions have tough matches against Paris and at Kielce ahead.

If Celje miss the ticket to the main round, it would be their fourth straight elimination after the group phase.

MOTW: SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs. Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN)

Sunday 25 February, 17:00hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

After eleven years in different positions - player, sports director and finally coach - at Flensburg, Ljubomir Vranjes will return to his former home for the first time with Veszprem, facing his former assistant coach Maik Machulla, now head coach of SG. In the first leg, the Hungarian side took a lucky 28:27 win, and the statistics speak for Veszprem, as they did not lose their last for duels with the 2014 Champions League winner (3 victories, 1 draw).

Both sides, and THW Kiel, have 15 points to their name and fight for the second position. Not only is it Vranjes’ return but also the fact that Flensburg’s French left wing Kentin Mahe will transfer to Veszprem next season will make this match extra spicy.

Despite his injury in the warm-up of the match at Paris (20:29), Flensburg’s line player Anders Zachariassen will be able to play. SG did not win their previous two Champions League home matches against Kiel (30:33) and Kielce (32:32), but were the only side so far to beat Paris Saint-Germain.

 Elsewhere in GROUP B:

THW Kiel (GER) vs. PGE Vive Kielce (POL)

Saturday 24 February, 17:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs. Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)

Saturday 24 February, 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com


TEXT: Björn Pazen / at
 
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