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26.06.2013, 15:00
New faces and well-known clubs in qualification
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Preview of the first draw of the 2013/14 VELUX EHF Champions League season

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's CL
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New faces and well-known clubs in the qualification

Raise the curtain for the 21st season of the VELUX EHF Champions League: Only 25 days after HSV Hamburg claimed the most important trophy in European club handball in Cologne, the starting whistle for the next season will be blown on Thursday (27 June) with the first draw for the qualification stage. 20 teams from 19 nations fight for six spots for the VELUX EHF Champions League in tournaments and knock-out matches from end of August onwards.

The qualification draw will take place on Thursday, 27 June 2013 at 14:00 hrs. at the EHF Office in Vienna.

Defending champions must qualify

For the first time in the 20 years history of the Champions League the defending champions have not got an automatic place in the Group Phase. HSV Hamburg finished fifth in German Bundesliga – leaving Martin Schwalb's team with the task of playing a wild card knock-out against their German rivals Füchse Berlin, VELUX EHF FINAL4 participant in 2012.

The aggregate winner over two games will be the fourth German team among Europe's elite after THW Kiel, SG Flensburg-Handewitt and Rhein Neckar Löwen booked their tickets through their final ranking in the German league. The loser of the matches Hamburg vs. Berlin will continue in the EHF Cup, starting in qualification round 3.

Eleven times Swedish champions vs. Challenge Cup finalist

Eleven years after they had been part of the EHF Champions League for the last time (eliminated in qualification) DROTT Halmstad returns to the top table. Regarding the EHF seeding list and in contrast to the previous season, the Swedish champions are not directly qualified for the Group Phase, so eleven-time Swedish champions from Halmstad have to face HB Esch in a “play-off battle” for a spot in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

The Luxembourgish team have just finished the most successful season of their club history by not only by becoming national champion, but by reaching the EHF Challenge Cup final against SKA Minsk. Although they were defeated in both legs, it was the biggest ever success for Luxemburgish team sports in any European competition, as they even had been the first team in any sports ever to reach the semi-final.

12 teams, three tournaments – one hope

Some well-known faces will fight for three spots in the qualification tournaments, played 31 August/1 September (venues to be decided).

Top ranked in the field of those 12 teams is last season’s VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 participant Dinamo Minsk with a huge number of players, who just qualified with Belarus for the EHF EURO 2014, sensationally eliminating World Championship semi-finalist Slovenia – including their new Dinamo club coach Boris Denič, who is also the Slovenian national team coach.

Together with last season’s Group Phase participant HCM Constanta from Romania and former IHF Cup winner Borac m:tel Banja Luka (Bosnia-Herzegovina) the Belarusian champions will be in Pot 1 for Thursday’s draw.

Pot 2 consists of Slovakian record champions Tatran Prešov, HC Vojvodina, who snapped the series of success of Partizan Belgrade in the Serbian league, and Portuguese champions FC Porto Vitalis.

Just like in the previous season, all three teams of Pot 3 - Alpla HC Hard (AUT), Elverum Handball (NOR), Besiktas JK (TUR) – will attempt once again to make it to the Group Phase. Pot 4 consists of the champions from Ukraine, Greece and the Netherlands - HC Motor, AEK Athens and HV KRAS/Volendam.

The nine teams which fail to qualify for the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase will proceed to the EHF Cup and will start in the second or third qualification round, depending on their final ranking in those tournaments. This system of qualification will be played with semi-finals on Saturday, followed by the third-place match and the final on Sunday.

Big names fight for the Wild Card

In 2009 the EHF installed the Wild Card Tournament for those teams, who do not qualify for the VELUX EHF Champions League from their national leagues.

Since then, big names have won those tournaments and had huge success: Ademar León (Spain/2009, reached the Last 16), Rhein Neckar Löwen (Germany/2010, VELUX EHF FINAL4 participant), Vive Targi Kielce (Poland/2011, VELUX EHF FINAL4 participant one season later) and HSV Hamburg (Germany/2012, VELUX EHF Champions League winner).

This season the Wild Card Tournament appears to have the best composition ever, including a former EHF Champions League winner. As MAHB Montpellier (CL winner in 2003) finished third in France, the team of returning four-time VELUX EHF Champions League winner Thierry Omeyer now hope to enter the continental elite “through the back door".

But the competition is really fierce, with last season’s VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finalist HC Metalurg needing to go the same way after failing in the final and decisive match of the Macedonian championship against their local rival Vardar Skopje.

Additionally the traditionally strong teams of Pick Szeged (Hungary) and Wisła Płock (Poland) try to stand in Montpellier’s and Metalurg’s way. Both have changed their coaches – and both went for a “Spanish reinforcement” on the bench: Płock signed Manolo Cadenas, who is also the new Spanish national team coach, Szeged agreed a deal with Juan Carlos Pastor, former coach of Valladolid.

But both need to overcome the high hurdles in the semi-finals of the Wild Card Tournament: Szeged face Metalurg, while Plock competes with Montpellier. The EHF will decide the venue of the Wild Card Tournament in due time.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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