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09.02.2016, 15:50
Restart in Zagreb; all-German clash in Flensburg
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GROUP A PREVIEW: Croatian side and their Polish counterparts can clinch their Last 16 berth in the first round after the ‘EURO break’

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

Restart in Zagreb; all-German clash in Flensburg

The EHF EURO 2016 in Poland is history, and the curtain for the VELUX EHF Champions League will be lifted once again only ten days after Germany sensationally became EURO champions.

The group phase will restart in Zagreb on Wednesday, where HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb have the chance to make another piece of history hosting Paris Saint-Germain Handball.

Like the PPD, Polish runners-up Orlen Wisla Plock can clinch the berth for the Last 16 three rounds ahead of the end of this round. Veszprém are clear favourites in Istanbul, while Round 11 of Group A will end with the most traditional derby in handball, when Flensburg face their neighbours Kiel in the ehfTV.com Match of the Week on Sunday.

HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb (CRO) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Wednesday 10 February, 18:45 local time, live on ehfTV.com

More than 15,000 spectators went wild on 9 December 2014, when Zagreb tamed the French champions with an unexpected 25:24 win in their arena.

Now, the hopes of Veselin Vujovic and his team are similar, when PSG again are their opponents 14 months later.

Though the French side won the first leg of this duel clearly 34:23 and are still the favourites, Zagreb have proved their strength on home ground by beating Kiel for example.

But still, the Croatian side suffer from some long-term injuries like Luka Stepancic, who just signed a three year contract at PSG from 2016 to 2019.

PSG - including EURO All-star team member Henrik Møllgaard (best defender) - are eager to finish on top of the group, being equal with Flensburg on 16 points.

After an intermediate downswing, Zagreb took three points from their last two matches against Besiktas and Plock - and in the case that Plock beat Celje and they at least tie with Paris they would also qualify for the knock-out stage.

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO)
Saturday, 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Plock have their and Zagreb’s fate in their hands on Saturday: If they beat Celje, almost all decisions regarding the Last 16 spots in Group A will have been taken, depending, of course on Zagreb’s result on Wednesday.

Having eight points on their account currently, they would seal the deal, as Celje are currently only on three points. Another defeat would end all hopes of the Slovenian record champions proceeding.

Plock had won the first leg in style (28:25), it was their first ever win against their upcoming opponent. As Celje did not take a single point in away matches so far, the chances to end this run are seen to be quite limited - though Plock, on the other hand, only won one match so far (against Besiktas) and tied twice against Veszprem and Zagreb.

One major questions is: how will the Slovenian young guns can cope with the very special and enthusiastic atmosphere in the Orlen Arena.

Besiktas Jimnastik Kulubu (TUR) vs. MVM Veszprém (HUN)
Saturday, 18:00 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV.com

Being one point below the top duo PSG and Flensburg, Veszprém are still in the race for winning the group and skipping the Last 16 to enter the quarter-finals directly.

The last second defeat at Kiel in their last match in 2015 was a setback, but the Hungarian champions still have their fate in their own hands, having an easier programme than the two top sides.

Hence, a victory in Istanbul is a must for the squad of coach Xavi Sabate, which had no problems in beating the Turkish side in the first leg 33:25. Besiktas’ hopes to make it to the Last 16 are close to zero, having only two points on their account so far - and another home defeat would mean the definite end of their dreams.

Momir Ilic will return on court after a finger injury had ruled Veszprém’s scorer out for the match in Kiel.

Despite a huge number of their players been on court at the EURO, including Spanish silver medallist Christian Ugalda and Croatian bronze medal winners Mirko Alilovic, Ivan Sliskovic and Renato Sulic, they should have enough to take the third away win of this season.

MOTW: Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs THW Kiel (GER)
Sunday, 19:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

For the 87th time in history the Northern German rivals face - and it is already the fifth duel in the fourth competition during this season.

After Kiel had won the Supercup (27:26) and the first leg of this Champions League duel (27:23), Flensburg were victorious in the Bundesliga (30:25) and the German Cup (34:27 in Kiel).

The circumstances prior to Sunday’s top clash are different: While Flensburg can play with their full strength, Kiel have to cope with a serious long list of injuries: The line players Patrick Wiencek, Rene Toft Hansen (both torn cruciate ligaments) are out for month, right back Steffen Weinhold (torn adductor muscle) might miss the rest of the season, while left back Christian Dissinger is at least out for a month.

Hence, THW signed three new players in the last weeks: Estonian international Dener Jaanimaa (right back) and Croatian line player Ilija Brozovic arrives from bankrupt HSV Hamburg and are both eligible to play in the Champions league.

Blazenko Lackovic can only help THW in domestic competitions, as the experienced Croat already played for Vardar Skopje in Champions League.

After the first leg, both sides (both qualified for the Last 16) have been on quite different journeys: Flensburg won all their seven group matches to currently top the ranking, while Kiel are four points below including a streak of three matches without a victory.

If Kiel win, they have a small chance to win the group, but in the case of a SG victory, Kiel are definitely out of the race for the top position.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc
 
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