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09.03.2016, 17:00
Impressive 2016 run give Veszprem top spot
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POWER RANKINGS: Hungarian champions lead the last power rankings of the group phase, closely followed by two other Group A contenders.

»EHF CL Channel »2015-16 Men's CL
»Last 16
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Impressive 2016 run give Veszprem top spot

The VELUX EHF Champions League group phase is over, and now it is time for another power ranking. Group A contenders take the first three spots, while Barcelona ranked fourth this time.

Discover what ehfCL.com journalists Björn Pazen, Peter Bruun, Bence Martha, Nemanja Savic, Kevin Domas and Magda Pluszewska together with ehfTV commentator Tom O Brannagain think about your favourite teams right now!

"It’s admirable how big steps were made by some clubs on their way to expand their brands – high time to make more space on the top for them," Magda Pluszewska, the only female representative on our panel stated.

10. HC PPD Zagreb

The Croatian side waved from very good to quite average in this group phase, without ever reaching the summits they climbed last season.

Veszprem and PSG all had a tough time in the Zagreb arena, while Kiel even lost there. Sadly, average away performances avoided Veselin Vujovic and his guys to hope for anything better than their final fifth spot.

Good news for the Last 16 is, Filip Ivic is better than he's ever been while Domagoj Pavlovic is proving to be one of the brightest Croatian hopes. Rhein-Neckar Löwen are warned, they'll have to take Zagreb very seriously in the next round.

9. IFK Kristianstad

The Swedish newcomers are the only eliminated team to make it to this power ranking. They even make it to the first position on the personal list of ehfTV commentator Tom O Brannagain.

"You don't have to be a genius to see who the best ten teams are, it is in black and blue, on the website, in the group standings. I have gone for my personal favourites. The teams that gave me the most enjoyment to watch them play. What a pity I didn't see Celje vs Kristianstad," Tom said.

For their first ever Champions League participation, the Swedish boys impressed. Full of young talented hopes, they only missed some experience to make it to the Last 16.

All the top teams in Group B experienced problems in Kristianstad, Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Kielce being even forced to lose some points up north. Andreas Cederholm, Kristian Björnsen or Jerry Tollbring were players only the handball experts had heard of last summer.

They are now being watched with a more respectful look and the fact that a lot of these players will be playing in bigger leagues next season is the final testament to their quality.

8. MOL-Pick Szeged

For the second season in a row, MOL-Pick Szeged will be playing the Last 16 phase of the VELUX EHF Champions league, while hoping for the same fate as they got last year.

Almost perfect at home and much weaker on away ground, that's how you could sum up this season so far for Szeged. Only Vardar and Barcelona managed to snatch some points in Hungary, a proof that travelling there is no easy thing.

But even Dean Bombac's talent could not help while playing abroad. Last season, their adventure to Cologne stopped against THW Kiel, an opponent they will face again this time. Can they jump over the hurdle this time? Looks like it's more manageable, at least.

7. THW Kiel

Last season's EHF Champions League final four participants struggled all the way though the group phase.

Almost everything has been going wrong for THW Kiel since the beginning of the season. Injuries (Patrick Wiencek, Rene Toft Hansen, Steffen Weinhold to name but a few) plagued Alfred Gislason's team, and no-one could face such an amount of absent players and not see its level go down.

At least, Kiel managed to win their games mainly courtesy of several stellar performances of Domagoj Duvnjak, while failing to beat any of their three rivals for the top spot. With Christian Dissinger and Steffen Weinhold scheduled to be back shortly, the next round might see the team rise to a whole other level.

6. Vive Tauron Kielce

Several ups and downs didn't prevent Polish side Kielce from finishing second of Group B.

With a squad almost the same as last season, you'd have the right to hope for Kielce to reach Cologne again.

But in this group phase, it seemed like the Polish boys had difficulties to really rise above their opponents and liked close games. Sometimes, it ended up badly for them (Kristianstad, Szeged), sometimes they managed to get away with it, like they did against Szeged in the last game.

Their potential is impressive, but now they will have to step up one gear or two in order to move on, because to settle for the minimum just won't do anymore.



5. HC Vardar

Macedonian side Vardar Skopje started this phase well, before slowing down and ending up third.

If we stopped in October, after the first four games of the group phase, Vardar certainly looked like the real FINAL4 contender they had always threatened to be.

Their good run was stopped, and even though the Jane Sandanski arena remains a fortress, Macedonian champions looked less impressive.

Offensively speaking, there are no things to worry about for Raul Gonzales, since Timur Dibirov and Alex Dujshebaev appear to be nearly unstoppable. But on the defensive side of things, there will be progress to be made or the adventure might stop already against Wisla Plock.

But if you ask our Balkans expert Nemanja Savic, his comment would be: "Can Raul Gonzelez's mosaic fall into place to mount the challenge for Vardar's maiden VELUX EHF FINAL4? Despite some inconsistencies, I would like to think - yes.

4. FC Barcelona Lassa

Titleholders are qualified for the quarter-finals. Mission accomplished.

No doubt losing Nikola Karabatic last summer was something hard to overcome for Barcelona, especially since his replacement Filip Jicha's been struggling with injuries since September. But while the Catalan giants certainly lost some offensive firepower, they've been able to count on the goalkeepers to make up.

Gonzalo Perez de Vargas and Danijel Saric are probably the best goalkeeper duo of this first phase, while Wael Jallouz is finally the shooting weapon Xavi Pascual has been hoping for. Different strengths but same goal for Barcelona.

3. Paris Saint-Germain Handball

The French favourite is now directly qualified for the quarter-finals. Not bad in a group that was made of many favourites and Peter Bruun seconds that: "PSG have shown stability lately."

While, in the past, Paris was versatile, now it has gained stability and successes that impress. Even though they lost track in Flensburg and Veszprem, PSG showed enough character to turn things around.

Responsibilities are shared in attack, with Mikkel Hansen the best scorer of the competition so far, but also Nikola Karabatic and Daniel Narcisse. And since Thierry Omeyer is in the form of his life, everything is now possible for Paris.

2. SG Flensburg-Handewitt

"For a series of nine straight wins and the much cheaper squad compared to PSG or Veszprem Flensburg well-deserve to be on the second position," Björn Pazen comments the 2014 winners's ride in the group phase.

If we had take bets right now, Flensburg would probably be our favourite team to make it to Cologne. Why? Because they have bench players so strong they almost beat Paris on the last game. This gives them so much variety, tactically speaking, that they're able to almost answer every question asked by their opponents.

"Ljubos Jungs" are exactly in the same position as they were in 2014. Flensburg are never more dangerous than when they are under the radar.

1. MVM Veszprem

Just one point behind PSG, Veszprem finished second of Group A. Which does not refrain them from being first in this power rankings.

"The first five are so close to each other that it would be a great surprise if any of the second five would make it past the round," predicts our Hungarian correspondent Bence Martha.

With four Champions League wins in 2016, Veszprem are almost unstoppable right now. The Hungarian side is the only one to have snatched a victory in Flensburg, thanks to a magnificient performance from Laszlo Nagy.

After taking their time to find their feet at the beginning of the season, and even if Antonio Carlos Ortega is not on the bench anymore, the Hungarian champions seem to have found their cruising speed and to be ready to take on anyone who comes their way.

Zaporozhye do not seem like a strong enough opponent to stop them and the quarter-finals will probably be the real test to know what Veszprem can hope for this season.


TEXT: Kevin Domas / br
 
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