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17.09.2015, 12:14
Teams face tough opponents and long distances in Group C
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GROUP C PREVIEW: Along with Russian title holders, Spanish runners-up Naturhouse La Rioja and Belarusian Meshkov Brest should have the edge in the group.

»EHF CL Channel »2015-16 Men's CL
»Group Phase
»
 

Teams face tough opponents and long distances in Group C

Three regular VELUX EHF Champions League contenders will meet in Group C along with two clubs returning to the European top flight after an absence and an ambitious newcomer that will be eager to gain invaluable experience and establish themselves on a European level. The clubs in Group C will enjoy travelling the furthest distance between ties from Porto to Chekhovskie Medvedi, all of this is almost 3,700 kilometers.

There will be a tough battle for the top two spots, which guarantee group phase knock out fixtures against the top two sides from Group D. Chekhovskie Medvedi are the most experienced side from the group. The 2010 VELUX EHF FINAL4 competitors led by respected coaching genius, Vladimir Maximov, look forward to new adventures this season.

His main task this season is to implement new rising stars of Russian handball and improve on their defensive work. Last year Medvedi were the only team in the group phase not to win a game, despite having the seventh best scoring record.

Both Brest and La Rioja have also featured in the same group last season, La Rioja winning the home fixture and with coming away with a draw in Brest. Meshkov will count on experienced coach Sergey Bebeshko, who has not miss Champions league campaign since 2009. The Belarusian side can count on the services of ex-Presov giant Dainis Kristopans and Russian international Pavel Atman, who were signed during the summer break.

La Rioja will look to repeat last year’s run, when they were stopped in the Last 16 by to-be finalists Veszprem.

Their third straight appearance in the goup phase is certainly a success for such a young club and proves they are on the right track of becoming a well-recognized European side. The Spanish side is led by their long serving coach Jesus Javier Gonzalez Fernandez, who was unlucky to have his new Serbian youngster Stefan Terzic injured.

Along with Brest, two other SEHA League contenders will meet in Group C. Whilst for Presov, this year’s group stage campaign means comeback after four unsuccessful qualifying campaigns. Vojvodina’s match in Brest will be the start of a new era for the club. Both teams are no direct favourites in the group, but Presov especially can be dangerous against any team.

Tatran are hungry to repeat their 2004/05 Last 16 run, but playing in three different competitions and a number of hours spent travelling will test their roster heavily.

For Vojvodina the story is slightly different. After three failed attempts to qualify for the Group Phase, the Serbian champions can look forward to matches on the top European level. New coach Nikola Markovic will count on former Russian international Alexey Rastvortsev to help him achieve positive results. Rastvortsev played in the FINAL4 with Chekhovskie Medvedi in 2010 and this experience will be invaluable to them.

Last side to feature in Group C is Portuguese Champion Porto. In this group five champions will meet, the only team excluded are La Rioja. Porto have only made it into the group phase in five out of six qualification attempts, successfully getting through in 2013/14. Their main target is to win their home matches and entertain enthusiastic fans in the Dragao Caixa.

Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)
Thursday, 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

This should be the highlight of the opnening round in Group C, in a match-up, where potential winners of the group and knock out stages contenders will meet. Winner of this clash will gain more than just points onto their tally. Expect high scoring game with plenty of effective offensive combinations and quick counter attacking options on both sides.

For most experienced club of the group, Chekhovskie Medvedi, this season will mark 15th appearance in the most prestigious club's competition.

On contrary, young Spanish club will enjoy their third spell amongst European elite. Two teams have never met before, therefore it will be interesting to see which style will prevail on Thursday evening in Chekhov.

Medvedi are eager to rebuild their reputation after they failed to win a single match last season, conceding most goals from all the participants. La Rioja made a breakthrough last season and teams will watch out whether they can achieve similar results, being eliminated by finalists Veszprém in the Last 16.

Spanish side were hit by long term injury of their new arrival, Serbian shooter Stefan Terzic, who got injured during Junior World Championship in Brazil and will be out for most of the season with knee injury. Pablo Cacheda is also out for the beginning of the season, as he broke a finger in preparation game against Chambery.

Long serving coach Jota González brought in as a replacement experienced right back Cristian Malmagro, who was given a chance in their recent league clash against Frigoríficos Morrazo. Richard Kappelin was the key figure, making 50% saves and showing good form before their Champions League opener in Russia.

Medvedi have won convincingly all their three Russian Superleague fixtures and they are eager to make a vital first step at home on Thursday. Coach Vladimir Maximom will have to suit his tactics to face aggressive defence of the opposition and fast counter-attacks. If Medvedi are to fight for the first spot and match the expectations, their young squad need to show concentrated performance.

HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs Vojvodina (SRB)
Saturday, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV

Vojvodina will make a milestone in Brest, playing it's historically first VELUX EHF Champions League encounter of two SEHA League contenders.

Although Vojvodina are newcomers in the elite prospect, they may found it easier entering the competition against an opponent they know well from the regional league.  

Interestingly enough, both sides meet two days later again in regional SEHA League in Brest. After suffering two defeats against stronger opponents the Belarusian champions are coming into this match after a high scoring win against Maks Strumica in SEHA.

While their new face Dainis Kristopans, former Presov right back, is getting used to new club and starts to set the tone in the offence, head coach Sergey Bebeshko needs to use his experience to shuffle with the lineup, as team have problem on the back positions.

Nikola Manojlovic has not featured in the latest game in Strumica, whilst Pavel Atman struggles to recover. Bebeshko looks to build on recent performance against Maks Strumica, in which Brest showed quality in defence and counter attacks.

Head-to-head stats speaks for the Belarusian side, who are favourites in this match up. From the last four meetings in SEHA League, Meshkov have won all four convincingly.

Vojvodina are looking to build on their fighting spirit from recent games however, because they are far from picking up decent form at the start of the season as they are winless in SEHA league.

Futebol Clube de Porto (POR) vs Tatran Prešov (SVK)
Saturday, 18:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

Last match in the first round of Group C fixtures scheduled for Saturday will be played in Portuguese city of wine. Two clubs, that are joining the group stage after missing one, respectively four seasons of the most prestigious club's competition.

Both clubs have lot to prove in Group C and despite they are no favourites to fight for the top two spots, both are ambitious enough to talk about advancing into last 16. Presov made it to this stage of the competition in 2004/2005.

When we take into consideration their direct encounters from the past seasons, we find very equal stats. Slovakian champions have won the first tie, CL qualification match in 2009 by three goals, whilst Porto have prevailed two years later, again in qualification, in a blockbuster by single goal.

Drama is expected again as both teams can be considered to represent similar level of handball in Europe.

Eastern Slovakian side enjoyed high flying start into the season, winning their Czecho-Slovakian cup in Prague and sitting on top of SEHA League table with three wins out of three matches.  To make the stats look even scarier for Porto, Presov continues to dominate in domestic league as well.

On the other hand, Porto are not doing any worse. They came short in the Portuguese Super Cup, but prevailed in both their domestic fixtures.

Tatran changed their coach during the summer break, Rastislav Trtik, man that led the charge in Presov's last EHF Champions League group stage adventure, took the job and realistically dreams of qualifying for the knock out stages.

Known for his systematic work and detailed analytic approach, with new fresh faces in his squad in person of goalkeepers Vladimir Bozic, Igor Chupryna and duo of tall right backs Alexey Peskov and Ivan Ivkovic, Trtik wants to build on emotions from the crowd. However there is one absence that makes Trtík worried – Oliver Rábek is long term injured and will be hugely missed in offensive game.

Change of coach was the main talking point also in Porto. Ricardo Costa, former Porto player and coach of ADA Maia last season, will build on work of his predecessor Ljubomir Obradovic. One of the leading players of the team, left back Gilberto Duarte agreed to extend his contract with Dragons, which makes the team competitive yet again, Porto will have to cope without several players that left the club, including Joao Ferraz.


TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / br
 
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