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23.02.2016, 17:30
Zagreb can seal the deal; SG and PSG can set up a great 'final'
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GROUP A PREVIEW: It’s crunch time on Saturday, when three crucial matches throw off within only two and a half hours as three teams still fight for the top position

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

Zagreb can seal the deal; SG and PSG can set up a great final

Like in a perfect play in a theatre, the pressure mounts in the penultimate round of Group A in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Though the top position will definitely be decided in the final round, Saturday will give us a hint of what the final ranking might look like. 



We might even have the decision of which teams will follow Flensburg, Paris, Veszprem and Kiel to the Last 16.

GROUP A

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

Besiktas are out, Kiel can only mathematically miss fourth position. 

Hence, this match has perhaps the lowest draw of attention of all the ties this week.

After THW took a lucky win against Plock, it is their aim to take all possible points.

Still hit hard by injuries, coach Alfred Gislason might give his youngsters and new arrivals more playing time in Istanbul.
 
Kiel won the first leg easily 32:21, but have to be aware of Darko Djukic, as the Serbian born Besiktas wing is on fire currently.

But the favourites roles in this encounter are clearly set.

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs MVM Veszprém (HUN)
Saturday 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

The final result 28:24 does not reflect the close first leg, in which Flensburg had chances to conquer Veszprém’s fortress, but in the end they were defeated by a strong defence.

One week later, SG lost in Kiel but it was this loss that started their impressive run of nine straight wins propelling them to the top of the group.

Veszprém are the hunters, being one point below the top duo Flensburg and PSG - and if the team of head coach Xavier Sabate takes both points, they could end up in the ‘lucky third’ for that important spot to skip the Last 16.
 
But statistics speaks against his side, as Veszprém have never won a match in the Flens-Arena, beaten twice by the 2014 Champions League winners.

And even harder: the last time Veszprém won a Champions League match (except for the FINAL4) on a German court was a 28:23 win in the 2004/05 season against Lemgo.
 
Veszprém had easier tasks since the re-start in 2016, beating Besiktas and Zagreb in the previous games.

Flensburg, on the other hand, are full of confidence after their biggest ever win against Kiel (37:27), but then were shaken quite hard, but did not fall in Celje on Saturday (30:26).

If Flensburg win, they definitely finish the group phase ahead of Veszprém, and then only need a draw in Paris in their final encounter to win the group.
 
“It’s crunch time now! Matches against Veszprém and Paris are those types of games that we train for, we look to them and we are eager to play,” said SG coach Ljubomir Vranjes.

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Saturday 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com

Still Plock wait for their second home win, still the team of Manuel Cadenas waits for a Champions League victory since middle of November, and the forecast for Paris is not the best.

Even with PSG taking their two only defeats of this season in away matches (at Veszprém and Flensburg), they are seen to be the favourites, proved by their away wins in Kiel and Zagreb.

But in the previous season, Plock managed to beat the defending (Flensburg) and upcoming (Barcelona) VELUX EHF Champions League champions in the Orlen Arena, while this season, their only home victory was against Besiktas.

Both sides need the points as Paris want to finish on top and want to set-up a 'final' against Flensburg, and Plock have already missed several chances to book their Last 16 ticket.

At home, they were defeated by Celje, then clearly improved in their Round 12 match in Kiel, but again left the arena empty-handed.

Mainly their goalkeeper will be highly motivated, as Rodrigo Corrales will transfer from Plock to Paris next season.

He proved his strength in the first leg, but can they avoid a similar close 24:28 defeat like they suffered in Paris?

HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb (CRO) vs RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO)
Saturday 20:00 local times, live on ehfTV.com

It is the match, which can decide it all in the race for the two remaining Last 16 tickets: If Zagreb (9 points) win, the Croats clinch their berth for the knock-out stage, and regardless their result against Paris, take Plock (8) with them.

If Celje (5) take both points from Zagreb, they still do not have their fate in their own hands, but have a quite good base, facing Besiktas at home in their final group match, while Plock will be hosted by Veszprém and Zagreb travel to Kiel.

The 20:21 home defeat of the Slovenian side was the opener of an unexpected series at Zlatorog Arena, as Celje have not won any home matches, including their defeat against Flensburg last Saturday.

In contrast, Zagreb sensationally topped the group after this away win of Round 2, but then only took five more points from the following ten matches.

It is the 16th time both record champions of their respective countries face in the EHF Champions League, and the balance is equal with seven wins on each side and one draw.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc
 
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