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29.09.2017, 15:12
Vardar seek to extend winning-streak, PSG visit Flensburg
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GROUP A & B PREVIEW: Current champions HC Vardar are strong favourites in their regional derby against HC PPD Zagreb while Paris Saint-Germain Handball face a tricky match in Flensburg.
 

Vardar seek to extend winning-streak, PSG visit Flensburg

Reigning VELUX EHF Champions League champions HC Vardar should have little trouble stretching their winning-streak to three wins, as they will be odds-on favourites against HC PPD Zagreb.

Last season’s runners-up Paris Saint-Germain Handball face the first real test of their credentials this season, as they visit German giants Flensburg, while Barcelona travel to Poland expecting a victory against Orlen Wisla Plock, who nonetheless may be a tough opposition.

  • Vardar aim to improve their poor head-to-head record against Zagreb.
  • FC Barcelona Lassa are set to renew their rivalry against Orlen Wisla Plock.
  • Paris Saint-Germain have won three of the last four meetings against Flensburg.
  • Veszprem and Meshkov Brest meet for the first time ever in the competition.

GROUP A

HC Vardar (MKD) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Sunday 1 October, 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com.

Vardar have had a perfect start to their title defence campaign, and the home fixture against old rivals Zagreb will be an opportunity for the champions to extend their winning streak, as well as improve their lacklustre record against the Croatian outfit.

The Macedonian side have won only twice, and drawn once, in their eight matches against Zagreb. However they did win the most recent encounter 25:20 on home court in last season’s group stage, after suffering a shock 28:27 defeat in the first match between the two teams.

Most of Zagreb’s wins came when the teams’ respective roles in European club handball were reversed, when the Croatian outfit dominating, before Vardar became a force to be reckoned with, and went on to win Europe’s top-flight competition.

However, Vardar cannot take victory for granted, especially given the rough ride they endured in their 27:23 home win over top-flight newcomers Nantes in the previous round.

This came on the back of an equally industrious 26:22 success in Wisla in the opening fixture, meaning that the reigning champions will need to fire on all cylinders against the pressure-free visitors.

In the last round, Zagreb battled hard at home against MOL-Pick Szeged but could not avoid the 23:28 defeat, while their first match ended as a 28:28 draw away against IFK Kristianstad. In the latter match, Zagreb’s Stipe Mandalinic showed his vast array of talents, scoring eight goals.

Vardar and Zagreb also play each other frequently in the regional SEHA League, so there will likely be no element of surprise in the match in the Jane Sandanski Arena.

 

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)
Sunday 1 October, 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com.

Barcelona showed determination, but also plenty of weakness, in the previous round in their fortuitous 31:29 home win over IFK Kristianstad, when they scored the last four goals to claw out victory from the jaws of defeat.

Thus, they may have trouble against Orlen Wisla Plock, who will be keen to avoid another early exit in the VELUX EHF Champions League after failing to reach the knockout stages last season.

To kickstart their already faltering campaign, having lost the opening two games, the Polish side will need to produce something special against Europe’s most successful team.

An unlikely victory will require them to contain Barcelona’s lethal wingers, especially Valero Rivera, who bagged nine goals against IFK, while Victor Tomas netted three of the last four.

Wisla had nothing to be ashamed of in the four-goal defeats by Vardar (26:22) and Rhein-Neckar Löwen (31:27), and their series of tough early fixtures continues against the group’s third Goliath.

The Polish outfit has a balanced roster if not a star-studded one, hence a maximum collective effort could see them come away with something from a game they will start as underdogs.  

Barcelona have won three of their four games against Wisla, including both group stage encounters last season.

 

Mol Pick-Szeged (HUN) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE)
Sunday 1 October, 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com.

 

GROUP B

 

Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs Telekom Veszprem HC (HUN)
Saturday 30 September, 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

Veszprem and Meshkov are perennial rivals in the regional SEHA League, but they have never met in Europe’s top-flight competition, hence, this will be an intriguing group phase match.

As expected, the Hungarian giants had a strong start, winning both their opening games, drubbing Celje 39:31 away, before a tight 28:27 home victory against Flensburg.

Mate Lekai shone in both fixtures, scoring nine goals in each of them, raising the bar and expectations among Veszprem fans ahead of the trip to Meshkov’s home court where many of Europe’s giants have fallen.

The Belarusian champions enjoyed a 28:25 home win over 2016’s VELUX EHF Champions League winners Kielce before putting up an almighty fight in their 32:28 defeat against Paris Saint-Germain, suggesting they will again be a tough nut to crack for any opposition.

Their balanced roster featured 12 scorers against PSG. PSG led by a single goal at halftime, and were forced to dig deep to avoid what would have been a stunning upset.

Veszprem will likely be asked to do the same if they are to stretch their winning-streak to three games.

SG Flensburg Handewitt (GER) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Saturday 30 September, 17:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com.

This is the weekend’s crowd-pleaser, as it features a stack of household names on both sides.

Paris Saint-Germain have won both their opening fixtures but were far from impressive in either the 25:22 success at THW Kiel or the 32:28 home defeat of Meshkov Brest.

Last season’s shock defeat against Vardar in a spectacular final still seems to be in their mind, as they launched another attempt to win Europe’s elite club competition with their star-studded outfit.

The French side’s German winger Uwe Gensheimer will face familiar foes in Flensburg, as he fought many battles with them while playing for Bundesliga rivals Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

Gensheimer was PSG’s most potent weapon in the opening two games, having scored 12 goals in total, while Danish sharpshooter Mikkel Hansen has still to hit top gear, much like the rest of the squad.

Flensburg have also showed chinks in their armour in a laboured 30:27 home win over Aalborg, followed by a 28:27 defeat at Veszprem, with Holger Glandorf displaying inconsistency in scoring.

He netted eight goals against the Danish side but only two in Hungary, where a tight and rugged defending confined him to a fringe role he will hope to avoid on home court against last season’s runners-up.

PSG have won four of their six matches against Flensburg, including both games in last season’s group stage, when the corresponding fixture in Germany ended in a thrilling 34:33 victory for the French side.  

 

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL)
Saturday 30 September, 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com.


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic/kc
 
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