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25.02.2014, 09:06
Hopes and fears, dreads and dreams
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BLOG: For the first time ehfTV commentator Tom O Brannagain will guide all TV spectators through the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 draw on Tuesday at 12:00. In his blog he reveals his thoughts and some of his wishes for the Last 16 pairings.

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's CL
»Last 16
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Hopes and fears, dreads and dreams

Imagine the scene at 12 today. Teams of men will sit around awaiting the outcome of the draw for the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Each of them from clubs representing 9 different European nations will have their hopes and fears, their dreads and dreams.

They will say that it doesn’t matter who is drawn. They will say that you must beat everyone if you are to win. They will even offer platitudes at the outcome of the draw saying it will be a tough match, even though inwardly they know a favourable draw will mean progression to the next round.

The group phase is over, they gather around the TV sets at their club houses, huddled together as a team, or perhaps in twos and threes and hope that their high position after 10 matches guarantees a team they should beat on any given day.

Today it’s all about balls, plastic balls.

The teams finishing in the highest positions are drawn first so that stronger teams can define their opponents. If you finished first, you play a team ranked 4th, 2nd will face 3rd. An added bonus will be that you can play the second leg at home. We all know the drama of the draw. The plastic spheres are shuffled, opened, the name is called. There is a close up of the name and a club representative, as they try to look like they are unfazed by what is happening on front of their very eyes.

Inwardly certain teams will be dreading some of the 4th place teams. In the groups of death that were group B and C, the teams ranked lowest in the draw are Plock and Vardar respectively. Without going into the ins and outs of who they might play, you have to ask yourself, who wants to draw them. The Zappers and Aalborg are a much cosier draw and teams that all the group winners should beat. Plock is not a “gimme” and can beat anyone at home. And on a very good day might cause an upset.

But Vardar will be the dread of all. Barca can’t face them again, but Veszprem, Hamburg and Kiel can. This team is strong, brave, cunning and explosive. Guttierrez knows what CL league handball means and ask PSG and Barca what a trip to Skopje is like. Kiel could manage it, but both Veszprem and Hamburg will have a tough time there and their home court will be so important. For that reason I think Veszprem would be ok, but Hamburg might have some problems. So my wish in this draw is to see Hamburg draw Vardar. I think this would be a cracking two legs, with Hamburg just sneaking it, maybe.

Hahaha, I’m sitting on the fence because who knows until it happens. It’s the lure of the draw, the “what ifs” and “maybes” and Ooh lala.

Most people believe the 1v4 is a foregone conclusion. Not this year mes amis, which brings me on neatly to the 2nd place teams. PSG has done extremely well to reach this point and will be praying for a match against either of the Slovenian teams. In this instance, they are more than likely through. However if they draw Kielce, well, that is as they say in French “FIN”. Having done so well to come second in one of the toughest groups, this would be a disaster for Paris. Likewise for Flensburg who could also draw them. The only 2nd place team that could beat Kielce, in my opinion is RNL. They have the speed, the power and the size to take on the Poles.

By way of contrast another 3rd place team that no one will want to meet is Metalurg. They will just put you to sleep playing against them. This is in no way demeaning them, rather, they take all the zest from your game and make you play at their pace. But which Metalurg will turn up? The one that beat both PSG and FCB at home. Or the one that got destroyed in Barca. Whichever, they will play Metalurg handball and teams like Flensburg will have problems against them to keep up their fast paced handball. But Kolding could do a number on them. If they draw each other, prepare for the lowest scoring matches since the goal throw off was introduced.

So watch out for reactions of the 1st placed teams that draw Vardar. When they say it’s going to be a tough match they mean it. Likewise for the 2nd place teams that draw either Kielce or Metlaurg.

I can’t wait. I have no crystal ball to see into the future. But I will see the red and blue plastic balls in the bowls tomorrow. And they hold the dreams of advancement for so many teams. There will be sighs of relief and slumped shoulders during and after the draw tomorrow.
Each representative will have his or her poker face on. In the end only they will know if they hold a winning hand.


TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator
 
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