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18.09.2013, 18:21
Showtime for Europe’s elite
«Go back »Print Version


ROUND PREVIEW: All 24 teams are ready for action as the Group Phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League season throws off on Thursday

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's CL
»Group Phase
»
 

Showtime for Europe’s elite

120 matches lay ahead, six debutants are eagerly awaiting their first matches and the defending champions start against a team from the same country as they played in June’s final: The Group Phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League is ready for take-off, with the opening games on Thursday in St. Leon-Rot and St. Petersburg.

Group A:
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs. HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR)

Thursday, 19:00 hrs. local time in St. Leon-Rot

In their first ever match in the VELUX EHF Champions League Motor Zaporozhye will meet some familiar faces. In last season’s EHF Cup both teams faced twice and eventual champions Rhein Neckar Löwen took two victories.

For the Germans the match is the first one in the Group Phase after two seasons away. Löwen shooter Sergej Gorbok had started his career at Zaporozhye, but at Motor’s local rivals ZTR.

St. Petersburg HC (RUS) vs. MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN)
Thursday, 20:00 hrs. local time

Thank god we are home again. After St. Petersburg had to play their matches at Chekhov last season, the Russian runners-up have returned home to the River Neva.

However, the start in their new hall is anything but easy, as Veszprém are one of the main contenders for a ticket to Cologne.

HC Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO) vs. Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO)
Saturday, 18:00 Zagreb hrs. local time

One of the most traditional duels in the EHF Champions League is renewed. In 21 seasons Zagreb and Celje have been nearly ever-present – the Croatian champions 20 times and the Slovenian runners-ups 19 times.

The clash could already be a hint for the rest of the Group Phase, as both are supposed to fight for the places three and four.

Group B:
Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs. THW Kiel (GER)

Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time

Two seasons ago both teams met in the Last 16 and THW Kiel left no doubt as to who the better team were, cruising past the Poles by a 15 goal margin on aggregate.

Times have changed though, Plock have bolstered their squad and they have a real fortress at home. After slipping up last season at Celje, Kiel will be aware of any opponent.

KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN) vs. FC Porto Vitalis (POR)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time

Last season both were playing in the EHF Cup, but now Kolding-Kobenhavn and Porto have been promoted to the main event.

The Danes, without injured right back Kim Andersson, are willing to prove their strength, while Porto have nothing to lose in their first group phase match since the 1999/2000 season.

KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL) vs. Dunkerque HB Grand Littoral (FRA)
Sunday, 19:00 hrs. local time

Right after the final whistle at Plock, another Polish team will start their campaign. Kielce are the favourites against a French team, bracing themselves for their first entry into the competition proper.

Repeating a clean sweep with ten victories in ten group phase matches last season will be quite a feat for the Polish champions, with the opponents expected to be much tougher this time around.

Group C:
PSG Handball (FRA) vs. HC Dinamo Minsk (BLR)


Saturday, 16:00 hrs. local time
Welcome to the VELUX EHF Champions League stage: For the first time since the new playing system was installed, PSG Handball will be taking part. After marching through the French league in the previous season, everybody in handball is interested in how Mikkel Hansen, Igor Vori, Daniel Narcisse & Co. play together at international level.

Minsk are the underdogs – but they fit well in this role, as they proved last season at Barcelona, when they unluckily lost by just one goal after leading for most of the match.

Wacker Thun (SUI) vs. HC Metalurg (MKD)
Saturday, 16:30 hrs. local time in Bern

A “full debutant” faces last season’s quarter-finalist Metalurg in their first ever match in the competition. Wacker Thun face the stong Macedonians, who had to make their way through the qualification, but are considered favourites for the match in Bern.

HC Vardar (MKD) vs. FC Barcelona (ESP)
Saturday, 18:15 hrs. local time

The city of Skopje is ready for the big clash: Vardar’s ticket sales reached new heights and everybody is expecting a full hall for a comeback to the competition and a better opponent could not be asked for, FC Barcelona Intersport.

It is not only the big name attracting the spectators, but the attendance of Macedonian legend Kiril Lazarov, who will face his brother Filip, Vardar’s team captain, for the first time. The strengthened Macedonians have confidence enough to say: “At home no team will beat us easily.”

Group D:
Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs. HSV Hamburg (GER)

Saturday, 19:30 hrs. local time in Logrono

Logrono welcomes the defending VELUX EHF Champions League winners for the club’s first match at this level. Last season La Rioja managed to beat another defending champion from Germany on home court, Frisch Auf Göppingen, in the EHF Cup, but Hamburg are another calibre.

The HSV squad has changed in important positions, but as proved in the 2012/13 final against Barcelona, Hamburg are always particularly motivated against Spanish teams.

RK Gorenje Velenje (SLO) vs. HK DROTT Halmstad (SWE)
Saturday, 20:30 hrs. local time

After more than a decade absence from the Champions League, Halmstad set their foot into this competition again and the Swedish champions are not hopeless going into the game, with their opponents Velenje in a full transition.

However, the “wasps” count on their home advantage, which should provide them with a sport among the top four in the end.

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs. Aalborg Handball (DEN)
Sunday, 15:00 hrs. local time

A “neighbour’s duel” right at the German-Danish border, though Aalborg is quite far away from Flensburg. The hosts are expecting a huge number of Danish spectators in their opener against the Danish champions. On home ground Flensburg are supposed to be favourites. 


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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