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20.02.2016, 12:50
Four-way battle for top spot intensifies as Lions visit Kielce
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GROUP B PREVIEW: German giants Rhein-Neckar Lowen visit Polish powerhouse KS Vive Tauron Kielce in the VELUX EHF Champions League’s Match of the Week, with Barcelona hosting Hungarians MOL-Pick Szeged

»EHF CL Channel »2015-16 Men's CL
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Four-way battle for top spot intensifies as Lions visit Kielce

With three rounds to go in an enthralling group stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League, the upcoming weekend offers a real treat in Group B, as Mannheim’s Lions visit Kielce in what should be a rip-roaring contest.

Debutants IFK Kristianstad will be looking for an upset in Skopje to keep alive their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages, while leaders and reigning champions Barcelona host second-placed Szeged in a top-of-the-table clash.

Group B 

HC Vardar (MKD) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE)
Saturday, 20 February, 17:30 local time; live on ehfTV

Last weekend’s results played into Vardar’s hands as they booked their round-of-16 berth despite a dramatic 28:27 defeat at Rhein-Neckar Lowen, but the outcomes left Kristianstad clutching at straws in the Swedish club’s bid to reach the knockout stages.

Having amassed 12 points from 11 games, Vardar are secure in fifth place with an outside chance of climbing a few places up, with a pack of three teams ahead of them on 15 points each and pace-setters Barcelona atop the standings on 17.

Hence, the clash in the Jane Sandanski Arena appears to be of much more significance to Kristianstad, who need a win in order to stay in touch with sixth-placed Montpellier, who are two points ahead of them.

IFK enjoyed a perfect warm-up for the visit to Skopje, having beaten Skovde 26:21 at home to stay top of the Swedish first division on 46 points from 24 games, seven ahead of closest rivals Alingsas.

Albin Lagergren stood out for the home side with seven goals, Jerry Tollbring netted five and Johannes Larsson chipped in with four.

Kristianstad built an unassailable 16:9 halftime lead and then took their feet off the gas pedal in the second half, with the challenge in Skopje in their sights.

Vardar’s Spanish coach Raul Gonzales heaped praise on the Swedish outfit and emphasised his side would have to work hard in order to bag the expected two points.

“Kristianstad are in good form and are coming here devoid of any pressure,” Gonzales told a news conference.

“They played very well in a 35:35 draw against Kielce last week, applying a solid 6-0 defence which paved the way for a flurry of fast breaks. In addition, our goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik is doubtful with an Achilles tendon strain while backcourt stalwart Igor Karacic is definitely out,” he said.

Pivot Mijajlo Marsenic added: “It is a very important match for us. We are the odds-on favourites and only a win will do.”

KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) vs Rhein Neckar Löwen (GER)
Saturday, 20 February, 17:30 local time; live on ehfTV

The VELUX EHF Champions League match of the week is set to produce a rip-roaring contest between two outstanding teams, as both of them are looking to say in the upper half of the standings and keep up the pressure on group leaders Barcelona.

Kielce and RNL are tied on 15 points from 11 games, level with second-placed Szeged and two points behind Barca, hence the outcome of their clash could be vital in the run-in, as all four teams are vying for the group’s top spot – which in turns means an automatic last-eight berth.

Mannheim’s Lions, who made a blistering start in the Bundesliga, have lately shown signs of fatigue and will head to Poland on the back of a 25:22 home defeat by Flensburg.

The result has raised question marks over their German league title bid, as champions and second-placed THW Kiel are now two points adrift with a game in hand.

Flensburg hauled themselves back into the hunt as they are now third, only three points off the pace, meaning that RNL have plenty of work to do in either competition.

The visit to Kielce will, however, bring back happy memories to Rhein Neckar-Lowen’s players who were part of the German squad who enjoyed a shock triumph at last month’s EHF EURO 2016 in Poland.

The clash will also bring German compatriots, RNL’s Uwe Gensheimer and Kielce’s Tobias Reichmann, face to face.

Gensheimer, who missed the European Championship through injury, was a spectator in Germany’s impressive run in Poland but returned to action last after a two-month layoff in RNL’s tight home win over Macedonian rivals HC Vardar.

Kielce are still in the driving seat of Poland’s 12-team first division after Tuesday’s easy 34:20 home win over Legionowo which kept them four points ahead of perennial rivals Wisla Plock, who have a game in hand.

“We played good defence to concede only 20 goals but our sights are now firmly set on the clash with Rhein Neckar-Lowen,” Kielce left wing Mateusz Jachlewski told reporters.

 

“While Tobias has physical advantages and extra-ordinary jumping power, Uwe has a greater range of shots and a rubber...

Posted by EHF Champions League on Thursday, 18 February 2016

 

KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN) vs Montpellier HB (FRA)
Sunday, 21 February, 16:50 local time; live on ehfTV

Kolding have only pride to play for in this match, while Montpellier are holding on to a last-16 berth with their fingernails.

Therefore, the French side will view the fixture as essential to their hopes of avoiding an early exit, with Kristianstad breathing down their necks in the race to finish sixth in a fiercely competitive section.

The Danish side have only one win and a staggering 10 defeats so far, but their performances have been better than the standings suggest.

KIF should have amassed more points, although they were blown away 34:23 last weekend at Szeged and will be keen to make amends on home court for the fiasco in Hungary.

Kolding will head into the clash on a high note after a hard-fought 22:19 Danish league win at Sonderjyske, which kept alive their hopes of retaining the title.

The result left the champions in fourth place, four points behind leaders Holstebro and still in with a chance of emulating last season’s success.

Montpellier have preciously little to cheer about heading into the all-important clash, having suffered a crushing 29:22 French league defeat at Nantes which left them a distant fifth in the standings, 10 points behind leaders Paris Saint-Germain-Handball.

Montpellier were undone by a majestic performance from Spanish star Valero Rivera, who netted 10 goals from 11 shots, while Jure Dolenec and Diego Simonet scored four apiece at the other end.

If they are to come away with the much-needed points at Kolding, the French side will certainly have to improve on that performance, having trailed 13:6 at half-time.

FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)
Sunday, 21 February, 17:00 local time; live on ehfTV

With Kielce vs Lowen being the match of the week, the clash between Barcelona and Szeged can certainly be billed as the section’s other derby as the table-toppers entertain their closest rivals.

There could not be more at stake for either team. Group leaders and Champions League holders Barcelona are looking to protect their pole position from a chasing pack of three teams, including second-placed Szeged who have hit top form in Europe’s elite club competition.

The Hungarian side have won five and drawn one of their last six games but the trip to Barcelona is the most daunting game they will have faced in the entire group stage.

Szeged warmed up for the visit with an emphatic 37:27 Hungarian league win at Cegledi to stay at the pinnacle of the Hungarian elite division on 38 points from 20 games, two ahead of closest rivals Tatabanya.

Barcelona were just as devastating in a 34:22 win at Moranzo Cangas in the Spanish league, stretching their perfect record to 18 wins from as many games to stay nine points ahead of Naturhouse La Rioja.

Aitor Arino was the game’s surprise top scorer with eight goals from 10 shots, while Kiro Lazarov chipped in with seven from as many attempts to keep Barcelona firing on all cylinders.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cor
 
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