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29.08.2017, 19:00
PSG edge out Barcelona in the first power ranking
«Go back »Print Version


FEATURE: Three of the teams that qualified for last season's VELUX EHF FINAL 4 are on track for success in this year's competition, according to a group of EHF correspondents.

»EHF CL Channel »2017-18 Men's News
»
 

PSG edge out Barcelona in the first power ranking

The best 28 teams in Europe are primed for action, as the start of the VELUX EHF Champions League 2017/18 beckons. Several teams have already started playing competitive games, and now a group of EHF correspondents have appraised each team's form and transfer activity to compile a list of the most important contenders.

10. MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)

The Hungarian side produced their best-ever Champions League performance last season, reaching the quarter-final phase where they faced a tough opponent in PSG. Szeged snatched a draw in France, but lost at home by three goals. The team is more or less the same, with Dmitry Zhitnikov and Stefan Sigurmannsson reinforcing what was an already experienced and versatile side.

9. HBC Nantes (FRA)

Nantes lost only one game in the group phase last season, as the French side impressed both in the VELUX EHF Champions League as well as in their domestic competition. Placing second in the French league, only three points behind PSG, means that the side known simply as 'H' are now in Group A against tougher opponents. The French team have kept their core intact, adding the best goalscorer in VELUX EHF Champions League history, Kiril Lazarov, to their ranks. The 37-year old Macedonian player completes an impressive roster, which should surely be able to put any team under pressure this season, at least on home court.

8. SG Flensburg Handewitt (GER)

Losing a coach like Ljubomir Vranjes could be fatal for a team like Flensburg, but the German side hope that Maik Machulla, who played under Vranjes and worked as an assistant coach to the charismatic Swedish coach, is the perfect fit. A tough group, with opponents like Kiel, PSG and Veszprém not helping Flensburg, who are currently starting a lengthy rebuilding process. However, the Germans, who won the competition three years ago, are still hoping their exuberance and young spirit will help them towards a long European season.

7. Telekom Veszprem HC (HUN)

The Hungarian side would be rated higher, had it not been for the Aron Palmarsson transfer saga. The Icelandic star is set to leave for Barcelona at the start of the next season but tried to force a move this summer, only to find his request shut down by Veszprém. It is not the sort of start that new coach Ljubomir Vranjes expected, and he now has his work cut out from the beginning. Veszprém still have some aces up their sleeves, with experienced left back William Accambray signing for the Hungarian side from PSG.

6. Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)

The Lions have experienced success in their domestic league, winning the last two seasons of the Bundesliga. However, Rhein-Neckar have disappointed in Europe's premium competition, with three consecutive eliminations at the Last 16 stage. Losing iconic left back Kim Ekdahl du Ritz will surely impact the team, at least in the short term, but Löwen have already won the German Supercup against Kiel, with impressive wins in friendlies against Vardar and Flensburg also underlining their ambitions for this season.

5. THW Kiel (GER)

The German powerhouse fought bravely against FC Barcelona Lassa in the quarter-final last season, but failed to extend their VELUX EHF FINAL 4 streak to six consecutive participations. However, there were silver linings to their failure - their talented but inexperienced players learned a hard lesson, and are now ready to go again. Having their captain, Domagoj Duvnjak, out until at least November will hurt their chances in the group phase, but anything is possible in the knock-out phase. The Zebras lost their first trophy of the season, the German Supercup, after a 7-metre shoot-out against arch rivals Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

4. HC Vardar (MKD)

Three months ago, Vardar's players were hailed as national heroes in Skopje, as a third of the capital's population came onto the streets to celebrate winning Europe's top competition. Therefore, the expectations are still high, with the atmosphere in the Jane Sandanski Arena promising to be hotter than ever. However, Vardar lost their top player, Alex Dujshebaev, who left to join his father at Kielce. Vardar's management quickly brought Latvian back Dainis Kristopans and, although the 2.13m giant is still adapting to his new team, he is expected to strengthen the Vardar defence this season. The 32:29 loss against Barcelona in the semi-final of the IHF Super Globe was expected by Vardar, but patience can run out quickly in Skopje and the fans will be hoping for a repeat of last year's success.

3. KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL)

No team except Ciudad Real have managed to win back-to-back VELUX EHF Champions League trophies in the last 17 years. This curse also affected the Polish powerhouse, who were eliminated in the Last 16 after a disappointing two-legged tie against Montpellier. Kielce have vowed to come back stronger, and were responsible for two of the most exciting transfers of the summer. Alex Dujshebaev left title holders Vardar for an expected reunion with his father and Kielce coach Talant Dujshebaev, while hot prospect Blaz Janc will add another threat from the wing for Kielce. Vive's free-flowing attack will surely be back, but the Polish side hope to strengthen their defence in order to be back at full throttle this season.

2. FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)

A perennial contender for the VELUX EHF Champions League trophy, FC Barcelona have set their sights on the big prize after coming fourth last season in Cologne. The Catalan side has kept most of their core intact, with the only departures being Kiril Lazarov to Nantes and the retirement of Filip Jicha. However, Jure Dolenec will surely be a good acquisition that strengthens both the defence and attack. Xavi Pascual's side has kicked off their season in style, winning the IHF Super Globe for the third time in their history, after a 29:25 win against reigning champions Füchse Berlin in the final.

1. Paris Saint-Germain (FRA)

There is no team with bigger ambitions than PSG this season. The French side has found success after serious investment, and has reached the VELUX EHF FINAL 4 in the past two years. They came close to winning the competition last season, but Vardar defeated them 24:23 in the final. The French side will come back stronger this season and have added Sander Sagosen, the Norwegian playmaker who will complete a dreamlike 9-meter line which already boast the likes of Mikkel Hansen and Nikola Karabatic. PSG have not lost any of their six friendly games this summer and are on track for a stellar season.


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / ap
 
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