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26.02.2018, 10:20
Talking points before a crucial last round
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TALKING POINTS: The end of the group stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League is close, but the competition is still full of surprises. This week we discuss unexpected wins, the battle for group ranking and the C+D play-offs

»EHF CL Channel »2017-18 Men's CL
»Group Phase
»
 

Talking points before a crucial last round

With only one round left in the group phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League, there is still a lot left to play for. Group A is wide open, both at the top and at the bottom, while the last knots in Group B were tightened over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the play-off battle between the top sides from Groups C and D has begun.

A huge reason to celebrate in Brest

There was certainly a reason to celebrate in Brest, as the Belarusian champions secured their ticket to the Last 16 with a magnificent win, 29:28, against Paris Saint-Germain – the leaders of Group B.

PSG had already booked their spot in the quarter finals, but it was all to play for HC Meshkov Brest. The home side delivered in front of a sold-out arena, ending PSG’s winning streak of eight matches.

It is the third straight season that Brest have made it to the Last 16. The victory meant the clash between RK Celje and Aalborg Handbold – who were still in the running for the next stage before the round – was about nothing but pride, with Lasko winning 32:28.

Nantes prolong the battle to the very end

While the top spot in Group B was already decided by Round 12, the battle in Group A will culminate in the next and final round.

Reigning champions HC Vardar could have sealed the deal against HBC Nantes on Sunday, but the French side won the thrilling encounter 27:26 – a result which kept first place open.

Nantes are one point behind Vardar and will travel to Rhein-Neckar Löwen for the last group phase match on Saturday, where a win can put significant pressure on Vardar before their clash against Orlen Wisla Plock on Sunday. If the French side misstep, Vardar will celebrate the group victory a day before their last game.

Vranjes returns to old stomping ground for a thrilling MOTW

Ljubomir Vranjes returned to Flensburg, as his former team hosted the Hungarian champions Telekom Veszprém in the Match of the Week on Sunday. The resulting game was a thriller, where the teams had to divide the points between them after a 31:31 draw.

Tension was high until the very end, when Holger Glandorf finished as the hero for SG Flensburg-Handewitt with a buzzer-beating goal that secured the draw.

Leading up to the last round in Group B, three teams are in the race for second place after THW Kiel’s loss against PGE Vive Kielce and the draw in MOTW, but Veszprém have the advantage in that contest.

Three teams battle for the last ticket

It is not only at the top of Group A where things will not be settled until the very end, as Orlen Wisla Plock, HC PPD Zagreb and IFK Kristianstad are all still fighting for sixth – and the final ticket to the Last 16.

With all three sides equal on six points, Zagreb and Kristianstad will meet for an exciting clash in Croatia on Sunday. Their previous encounter ended in a 28:28 draw, but now the winner could have it all.

Plock are in the best position, but need a win against leading side HC Vardar to keep their hopes alive.

Motor and Montpellier have the edge

The first games of the VELUX EHF Champions League Elimination Round C+D Play-offs saw HC Motor Zaporozhye and Montpellier HB take the advantage.

Motor won 32:30 at home against Skjern Handbold, but the duel is still wide open before the second leg in Denmark. Skjern have claimed five victories on their own court in the group phase.

Montpellier won the first eight games in Group D earlier this season and are now in a strong position to proceed after an away win, 28:24, against Abanca Ademar Leon. The Spanish side will need a victory of at least four goals away from home in the second leg to have a chance of qualifying.


TEXT: Andri Yrkill Valsson / cg
 
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