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25.09.2015, 14:49
David vs Goliath in Barcelona, clash of the titans in Skopje
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GROUP B PREVIEW: Barcelona welcome newcomers IFK Kristianstad while HC Vardar lock horns with MOL-Pick Szeged in the outstanding fixture

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

David vs Goliath in Barcelona, clash of the titans in Skopje

Following an exhilarating opening day of the VELUX EHF Champions League in Group B, Round 2 is set to produce more thrills as it offers four captivating fixtures across the continent.

Having stunned Kolding Kobenhavn at home, top flight debutants IFK Kristianstad are headed for a date with the royalty of European club handball, eight-time winners FC Barcelona Lassa.

This David vs Goliath clash is in stark contrast with the encounter in Skopje, where Macedonian giants Vardar are at home to their Hungarian peers MOL-Pick Szeged in what is expected to be a titanic tussle.

Polish champions KS Vive Tauron Kielce welcome the opportunity to bounce back from the opening 31:30 defeat by Szeged as they entertain Montpellier, who were brushed aside by Vardar.

Finally, Kobenhavn have it all to do against a fired-up Rhein-Neckar Lowen, who arrive in Denmark with their confidence sky-high after they beat mighty Barcelona.

GROUP B

KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) vs Montpellier HB (FRA)
Saturday, 26 September, 16:15 local time, live on ehfTV

Old foes meet again after a memorable Last 16 clash last season, when Kielce beat Montpellier away 29:25 and then narrowly avoided a shock elimination after losing the home leg 33:31.

Revenge will certainly be on the French outfit’s mind while the Polish title holders need to put their first points on the board after a setback at Szeged, where they paid the price for two missed penalties from the seven-metre line.

A balanced Kielce outfit was undone by 11-goal Szeged sharpshooter Dejan Bombac. Kielce’s speedy Croatian winger Ivan Cupic, who netted only two goals at the other end, is one of the players expected to step up against Montpellier on Saturday.

“We were outplayed against Szeged and with the new Champions League formula in place it is very important that we chalk up our first win,” Cupic told a news conference.

“I am confident that we have what it takes to win in front of our passionate fans on home court.”

“You can never take anything for granted against Montpellier as we found out in last season’s two-leg showdown in the Last 16. They are lethal on fast breaks and take only three or four seconds to get from one end of the court to the other. Hence we have to back-track quickly, be focused in defence and patient in attack.”

Montpellier warmed up for the duel with a comfortable 36:29 home win over Cesson Rennes to stay second in the French top flight with four points from three games, two behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain.

Their versatile Slovenian international Borut Mackovsek stood out with a game-high nine goals and Baptiste Bonnefond added five, prompting mixed reactions from coach Patrice Canayer ahead of a much stronger test of their credentials against Kielce.

“The positive thing is that the attack was fluid thanks to a quick transition of the ball but we were very naïve in defensively, especially in the second half,” Canayer told reporters.

FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE)  
Saturday, 26 September, 18:50 local time, live on ehfTV

The difference in the two clubs’ history and stature could not be starker and the gulf in class is probably as big as it gets in Europe’s premier club competition, yet this is an intriguing fixture likely to draw keen interest from handball fans across the globe.

Holders Barcelona are up against the proud debutants from Sweden, who showed their teeth in the opening round when a magnificent performance on home court propelled them to a historic 33:26 defeat of Kobenhavn in a thrilling Scandinavian derby.

Driven by right wing Kristian Bjornsen and backcourt dynamo Christian O’Sullivan, who netted 16 goals between them, Kristianstad showed they will be much more than a punching bag even for some of the most heralded opposition in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Barcelona, on the other hand, will want to make amends for last week’s painful 22:21 defeat at Rhein-Neckar Lowen, where their normally free-flowing attack was stifled.

To show that they mean business on all fronts, Barcelona got back into their stride with a 40:28 whitewash of Huesca, stretching their impressive winning streak in the Spanish league to 65 matches.

Winger Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson led an array of scorers with seven goals and Danijel Saric was tremendous between the posts with a 50 percent saves rate, meaning that Kristianstad face a mountain to climb against the royalty of European club handball.

But devoid of any pressure, they are unlikely to be overawed after a fine start in Europe was amplified by a narrow 28:27 win over Swedish league rivals Karlskrona in midweek, which nevertheless left their iconic coach Ola Lindgren unhappy.

“We lacked the intensity and desire this time and some players who got a chance to spend more time on the court didn’t make the best use of it,” Lindgren said after seeing his team grind out a hard-earned victory.
          
KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN) vs Rhein-Neckar Lowen (GER)  
Sunday, 27 September, 16:50 local time, live on ehfTV

It never feels nice to be on the receiving end of a season-opening upset and that’s exactly what happened to KIF after they were stung at Kristianstad, meaning they now have to show what they are made of against a rival enjoying a contrasting fortune.

While the Danish champions were getting pulverised by European top flight novices, their German rivals ground out a morale-boosting home win over defending champions Barcelona and with the wind firmly in their sails, RNL will expect nothing less than a second successive win.

Led by the mercurial Uwe Gensheimer, the top scorer against Barcelona with six goals to his name, the Lions from Mannheim showed a cultured build-up in attack and ironclad defence likely to strike primal fear into the hearts of stronger teams than Kolding Kobenhavn this season.

Rampant RNL are also top of the Bundesliga with a maximum 14 points from seven games after their 31:20 rout of TVB Stuttgart, in which Gensheimer once again stood out with five goals.

“Our long crosscourt passes were perfect and hence we conceded very few goals,” Gensheimer explained his team’s ruthlessly efficient strategy after the game.

KIF also had a good curtain-raiser to the clash, having beaten perennial Danish rivals Holstebro 30:26 at home as Bo Spellerberg netted eight goals and Kasper Irming added six.

It was a rip-roaring encounter in which the visitors held their own until the last quarter of the match, when the home team’s deeper roster fuelled by man-of-the-match Spellerberg overturned a 20:23 deficit.

If they are to force Löwen into submission, Kolding Kobenhavn will need that kind of resilience throughout what should be a spectacular duel in Kolding.   

HC Vardar (MKD) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)
Sunday, 27 September, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV

An impressive five-goal win at Montpellier in the previous round has certainly boosted Vardar’s appetites and nothing less than victory against Szeged will do for passionate Macedonian fans in the Jane Sandanski Arena.

However, that will be easier said than done against the Hungarian side who were just as impressive against Kielce on home court, hence this eagerly awaited clash should keep handball lovers on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

No less than 11 Vardar players got on the score-sheet against Montpellier, with Timur Dibirov and Jorge Pena Maqueda leading the way after netting six goals each.

Line player Alem Toskic chipped in with five and it is obvious that Vardar’s deep roster, coupled with fervent support from the terraces, will be a stern challenge for Szeged.

“It was a great result against Montpellier as this is always a difficult place to come to,” Vardar coach Raul Gonzales said after his team’s five-star display against the French side.  

Having prevailed in a captivating clash with Kielce thanks to a superb 11-goal performance from Dejan Bombac, Szeged will hope the Slovenian centre back can reproduce some of that magic while also relying on the support cast to carry the weight.

“The atmosphere against Kielce was great and the victory was very special, but we are now looking at a tough match against Vardar which will certainly be played in a frenetic atmosphere,” Szeged’s Serbian winger Marko Curuvija told the club’s official website.

“Vardar fans create a football-like environment but I am confident that we can grind out a win,” he said.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br
 
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