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27.04.2018, 14:30
VELUX EHF FINAL4 berths still up for grabs
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QUARTER-FINAL PREVIEW: Can French trio Nantes, PSG and Montpellier make history? And will Vardar remain on course for the defence of their title? Nothing has been decided yet on the road to Cologne

»EHF CL Channel »2017-18 Men's CL
»Quarter Final
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VELUX EHF FINAL4 berths still up for grabs

Just 240 more minutes will decide the four teams that make it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne on 26/27 May.

The two French sides Paris Saint-Germain and HBC Nantes each carry six-goal advantages into the second leg of the quarter-final. Vardar are ahead by one against Kiel, and Montpellier and Flensburg-Handewitt are all level at the start of this week’s ehfTV.com Match of the Week in Southern France.

Paris are unbeaten in their last 28 Champions League home matches

Montpellier are the only French team ever to eliminate a German team in the knockout phase

Kiril Lazarov can make it to Cologne with his fourth different club

Only German sides have won at Vardar’s Jane Sandanski Arena in recent years

QUARTER-FINAL, SECOND LEG:

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL)
Saturday 28 April at 17:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

Can Kielce break the ‘eternal’ series of PSG? Paris did not lose any of their previous 28 home matches in the VELUX EHF Champions League since November 2014. And they have not lost at home by more than four goals since 2013.

Therefore, the 34:28 away win at Kielce last weekend seems to be a perfectly comfortable cushion for the French champions to proceed to their third straight VELUX EHF FINAL4.

But coach Noka Serdarusic is aware that still 60 minutes separate Paris from Cologne.

“Still nothing is decided. We know that Kielce are a team famous for great comebacks,” he said.

His side will have to replace Luka Karabatic, who broke his finger in Kielce and would be in danger of missing the FINAL4 if PSG qualifies.

Kielce have lost all three matches against PSG this season. Their only victory so far came in the 2016 semi-final at Cologne.

Last Saturday, the team of Talant Dujshebaev were down 22:10 at the break. They could now bow out against a French team for the second straight season after losing to Montpellier in the Last 16 of 2016/17.

Skjern Håndbold (DEN) vs HBC Nantes (FRA)
Sunday 29 April at 16:50 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

Can Skjern cause another handball miracle or will Kiril Lazarov make it to Cologne with his fourth different team?

That is the question prior to the second leg of the encounter of the two quarter-final debutants. Nantes won the home match 33:27 after enjoying an even bigger lead during the match.

Skjern will need a similar result to their home match against Veszprém in the Last 16 (32:25) to make it to Cologne as the second Danish team after AG København in 2012.

If they succeed, Skjern will be the smallest town ever to be represented at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

On the other hand, Nantes can become the second ever French team after PSG to be part of the pinnacle event of the VELUX EHF Champions League season.

If they make it, German-born left wing Dominik Klein would make it to Cologne for the seventh time in after playing there with THW Kiel on six occasions.

Also, right back Kiril Lazarov would be part of the event with his fourth different team - after Ciudad Real, Atletico Madrid and FC Barcelona.

Nantes have lost a Champions League match by seven or more goals only once - in the all-French Last 16 tie with PSG (35:27).

HC Vardar (MKD) vs THW Kiel (GER)
Sunday 29 April at 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

After a highly thrilling end to the first leg with a buzzer-beater by Jorge Maqueda, Vardar left Kiel with a 29:28 win.

But despite their first ever victory at Sparkassenarena, Vardar remain humble.

“The first half is over, the second one will be as tough as the first one. We have to focus as we nearly start at zero again,” said Vardar coach Raul Gonzalez.

If they fail to advance, Sunday’s match will have been Gonzalez’s last international one on the Vardar bench before he joins PSG.

But if they do advance, Vardar would only be two more steps away from becoming the first team to defend their title from the previous season in Cologne.

But Kiel for sure want to stand in Vardar’s way, and become the first team with seven appearances at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

“It is going to be really hard in Skopje, but our team has withstood many battles,” said line player Patrick Wiencek after the home defeat against the newly crowned winners of the SEHA League.

The last team to win an international match in Vardar’s Sportski Centar Jane Sandanski was German: Rhein-Neckar Löwen in the 2016/17 season.

MOTW: Montpellier HB (FRA) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
Sunday 29 April at 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com

A one-goal win or a draw with less than 27 goals is enough for Montpellier to end their quarter-final curse.

The 2003 champions have not yet been part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4, which was introduced for the 2009/10 season.

On the other hand, a one-goal win is also enough for Flensburg to reach the final destination once more. They have been there before, in 2014, when they immediately took the title.

Statistics speak for Flensburg: Montpellier have lost their last five Champions League home matches against German teams, including the 2010/11 quarter-final against Rhein-Neckar Löwen and the 2015/16 Last 16 against Flensburg.

Only once in the history of the competition have a French team eliminated German opponents -  and remarkably enough, it were Montpellier who defeated Flensburg in the 2004/05 quarter-finals.

But Flensburg lost their last three matches in France - all against PSG.

Definitely one 2007 Champions League winner will make it to Cologne from this encounter: either Vid Kavticnik (Montpellier) or Mattias Andersson (Flensburg). Thet were teammates at Kiel, which beat Flensburg in the final.

If Flensburg get eliminated, an outstanding international career will end in the Sud du France Arena: then it will have been Andersson’s last international match.

But fellow Swede Tobias Karlsson is sure that the deal is not sealed yet: “We start at 0:0, there’s one half still ahead, and we know what we need to improve.”

Photos: EHF/Benjamin Nolte (SG Flensburg-Handewitt) & EHF/Sascha Klahn (THW Kiel)


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ew
 
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