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25.09.2015, 11:10
Favourites under early pressure
«Go back »Print Version


GROUP A ROUND PREVIEW: The VELUX EHF Champions League is heating up already with headlines on and off the court setting the scene for an enticing round of matches
 

Favourites under early pressure

Usually there is not much news to report between Rounds 1 and 2 of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase. But Group A took exception to that rule this week.

Veszprem sacked their coach, Paris Saint-Germain signed a handball hero as Serdarusic’s assistant, Kiel and Flensburg stumbled in their domestic league and Zagreb’s captain is banned.

This sets us up nicely for an action packed round - played only on Saturday and Sunday this week - certain to be full of tension and excitement.

Group A

MVM Veszprém (HUN) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) - Match of the Week
Saturday, 17:30 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

2015 finalist vs 2014 winner - this alone should be enough to make Veszprem vs Flensburg a well-deserved ehfTV.com Match of the Week. But it’s a new story now, as Veszprem have sacked their coach Carlos Ortega after the 27:27 against Plock in their opener. So one of the biggest questions will be whether assistant Javier Sabaté has what it takes to be the long-term solution on the bench, or will another coach take over the Hungarian record champions? 

Sabaté will definitely coach Veszprem this weekend's top encounter. The reaction of the faithful and frenetic Veszprem fans will be interesting to see, as Ortega had become their hero thanks to the success of the club since his arrival in 2012.

However, Flensburg are also shaky at the moment. In contrast to their stunning win over Paris Saint-Germain in Round 1 (39:32), they have not won their last three Bundesliga matches (defeats against Melsungen and Wetzlar, and a draw against Füche on Wednesday). In addition, line player Anders Zachariassen is out for an extended period after he tore his cruciate ligament against Paris.

SG playmaker Thomas Mogensen will have his 401st match in the jersey of SG and like Jakob Heinl on his side plus Gergö Ivancsik and Peter Gulyas on Veszprem’s side, he is one of four players, who played in the club's last meeting in 2008, won by Flensburg 32:29. In total, the German club won three matches, while the Hungarian champions only were victorious once.

From the statistic point of view Veszprem are the clear favourites: Since the 2009/10 season they won 28 of 30 group matches in their arena.

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs. HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Saturday, 20:00 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

It is one of the most traditional duels in the history of the copetition. Zagreb play their 22nd season in this competition, while Celje participate for the 21st time. This is the 15th meeting between the neighbours with Zagreb winning seven times, Celje six times and one match ended in a draw. And it is the duel of the fourth ranked team in the all-time table of the Champions League vs the sixth ranked.

But even without all those historic numbers it is one duel which is crucial in the race for the Last 16. Both sides started their 2015/16 Champions League campaign victorious - Celje won at Istanbul, while Zagreb beat THW Kiel thanks to their solid-rock defence. But as a consequence of this match, Zagreb will have to replace their team captain Zlatko Horvat after his direct red card and a one-match suspension.

The Zlatorog Arena will be fully packed in this duel of two young teams, full of brilliant talents. And one man will be in a very special focus, as Veselin Vujovic is not only the coach of Zagreb, but also of some Celje players as Slovenian national team coach.

In their last group match duels in the 2013/14 season, both sides took home victories.

With a perfect run of three victories, Zagreb top the table of the SEHA Liga though some key players, such as Stipe Mandalinic, are still injured. Celje prepared their engines for the Champions League clash with the Croatian champions by a 38:28 league win against Krka - including an outstanding performance from goalkeeper Urban Lesjak, who saved 23 shots.

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) vs Orlen Wisla Plock (POL)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

How will the illustrious Parisian squad react to the 39:32 loss at Flensburg on court against Plock? The Polish runners-ups have nothing to lose in the French capital - and they already underlined their ambitions by a home draw against Veszprem.

“We definitely need to improve our defence,” said PSG coach Noka Serdarusic after the defeat at Flensburg. On domestic ground, his team regained form with a 34:27 win against St. Raphael - their third win from three in the French league.

And this match was also the occasion of the French champions to increase their “former Kiel family”. After the former THW players Thierry Omeyer, Daniel Narcisse and Nikola Karabatic and former THW coach Serdarusic had joined the club, now another Kiel legend is assistant coach in Paris.

Staffan Olsson, who signed a contract until 2017, played under Serdarusic. He will remain coach of the Swedish national team.

With Serdarusic and Olsson on the bench, the hosts will try everything to make forget their weak start at Flensburg against Plock. This will be their first competitive meeting.

Like Paris, Plock had a perfect dress rehearsal for the match by beating Gornik Zabrze in the Polish league by 31:25 and also top the table with an unbeaten record.

THW Kiel (GER) vs Besiktas Jimnastik Kulubu (TUR)
Sunday, 19:30 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

Like in the Paris vs Plock encounter, these teams never before faced in an official match. However, Besiktas invited THW for a training camp ahead of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in May 2015, including by a match of both domestic champions - won by Kiel 36:30.

Both have zero points on their accounts after the first match - Kiel lost at Zagreb, while Besiktas were defeated on home ground by Celje - and the dress rehearsal for their first home match of the season was anything than successful for Kiel, as the three-time champions lost their Bundesliga match at Frisch Auf Göppingen 21:29.

Nevertheless, Kiel are the clear favourites on Sunday. Besiktas have yet to win away in the Champions League, while Kiel (second ranked in the all-time Champions League table) did not lose their last 23 home matches in this competition (22 wins, 1 draw). The last THW home defeat occurred in October 2011 (23:24 against Montpellier).


TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor
 
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