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15.09.2017, 11:20
Lions aim to tame Barcelona in MOTW
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GROUP A PREVIEW: Vardar start their title defence at Plock, while the first Match of the Week takes place in Germany where Rhein-Neckar Löwen clash with Barcelona
 

Lions aim to tame Barcelona in MOTW

The eagerly awaited new VELUX EHF Champions League season gets underway this weekend with IFK Kristianstad and HC Zagreb providing the curtain-raiser on Saturday.

Three simultaneous crackers should offer a real treat on Sunday, as reigning champions Vardar launch their bid to retain the title at Orlen Wisla Plock, while HBC Nantes start life in the top tier at home to MOL-Pick Szeged.

Finally in Sunday’s Match of the Week, Rhein-Neckar Löwen take on Barcelona in the day’s outstanding fixture as two star-studded outfits lock horns.

  • IFK take on Zagreb in what should be an evenly balanced contest

  • Champions Vardar start their title defence on slippery ground at Wisla

  • Szeged face tricky trip to Nantes, who begin new life in the fast lane

  • Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Barcelona close out the round in our MOTW

GROUP A

IFK Kristianstad (SWE) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Saturday, 16:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

Given the group’s composition, the clash between IFK and Zagreb should by all means and purposes signal the start of a ferocious five-way battle for three knockout stage berths.

With Vardar, Barcelona and Rhein-Neckar Löwen the section’s clear favourites, the other five teams are expected to slug it out for the remaining three slots guaranteeing knockout stage handball after the group phase.

The Swedish title holders and the Croatian giants are in that five-team pack and there is little doubt both sides will see their opening match as a chance to pick up precious points in a bid to avoid an early exit.

IFK are looking for their first knockout stage berth in their third season in the VELUX EHF Champions League, while Zagreb are vying to reach the business end of the competition for the 10th time in a row.

With speedy and prolific winger Jerry Tollbring gone to Rhein-Neckar Löwen, IFK face a tough task to beat Zagreb, who have held on to their key players.

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs HC Vardar (MKD)
Sunday, 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

This season Vardar will find out what it’s like to play with targets painted on their backs, as the Macedonian giants are the favourite scalps for all their rivals.

The journey begins at plucky Polish rivals Orlen Wisla Plock, who missed out on the knockout stage last season and would dearly love to make it up to their fans with an upset win against the European club champions.

Vardar, who have kept together the outfit which sent shockwaves through Europe when they beat Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne to lift the coveted trophy for the first time in the club’s history, will start as strong favourites.

However, they will also take nothing for granted in a country where fans are as passionate as anywhere and are known to create a fervent atmosphere.

Vardar’s fans expect the defending champions to finish top of the group and thus clinch an automatic quarter-final berth, hence the team will in all likelihood see the visit to Plock as a must-win outing to get their campaign on the right track.  

HBC Nantes (FRA) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)
Sunday, 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

An intriguing clash is on the cards as Nantes start life in the fast lane against one of Hungary’s two perennial contenders.

Having dominated the lower echelons consisting of two six-team pools, the French side will hope to make an instant impact among the big boys when they take on Szeged.

Nantes will be boosted by the arrival of prolific right back Kiril Lazarov from Barcelona, with the Macedonian hitman expected to add an extra dimension in attack with a wide range of lethal shots from the nine-metre line and clinical penalty-taking.

Szeged, on the other hand, are expected to finish in the group’s top four but would dearly love to get involved in a  battle for the section’s top spot and automatic passage to the last eight.

While they will be eager to seize any opportunity of upsetting more heralded rivals such as Vardar, Barcelona and Rhein-Neckar Löwen, the Hungarian must also avoid dropping points at newcomers to the big stage like Nantes.

MOTW: Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)
Sunday, 19:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

To cap off an entertaining opening weekend, Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Barcelona lock horns in a perennial battle for supremacy and bragging rights across the continent in the season’s first Match of the Week.

Still smarting from their semi-final defeat by Vardar in last season’s FINAL4, Barcelona will be keen to prove to themselves and their rivals that they still have the mettle to launch another bid for a record-extending ninth title in Europe premier club competition.

Mannheim’s Lions are also licking their wounds from another poor Champions League season, though winning the Bundesliga will have appeased their success-hungry fans.

The clash against Barcelona will show how much progress they have made during the summer break and whether they have what it takes to slug it out with the Catalan side and Vardar for the group’s top spot.

The game will also be a chance for Barcelona’s new signings Lasse Andersson and Jure Dolenec to impress on their debut for the Spanish giants, while Jerry Tollbring will try to do the same at the other end.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / ew
 
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