First ever Group Stage of Men’s EHF Cup will be confirmed after the second leg matches of the third qualification round this weekend.
15 spots still to be filled in
The final 15 matches are yet to come to confirm the participants of the Group Phase of the newly formed Men’s EHF Cup.
The first team which made their way to the newly created stage of this competition are the Romanians of Stiinta Municipal Dedeman Bacau, who clearly took an aggregate victory against Maccabi Srugo Rishon Lezion in two matches played in Romania on the past weekend.
Now 15 of 16 spots are still to be found in the re-matches of the third and final qualification round.
Some clubs have already made more than one step towards the Group Phase in their first leg like defending EHF Cup champions Frisch Auf Göppingen (29:17 against Meshkov Brest/BLR) or Slovak side Tatran Prešov (36:25 at Morac m:tel Banja Luka/BIH).
2011 VELUX EHF FINAL4 participants Rhein Neckar Löwen had another easy task ahead after their 37:17 against defending EHF Challenge Cup champions Diomidis Argous from Greece as well as Tvis Holstebro (DEN) after their unexpected clear 35:19 against French top team Saint-Raphaël Var Handball or Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) which beat RK Vojvodina (SRB) 28:19.
Additionally both Norwegian teams finished the first round with a double figures results: Haslum HK (31:20 against Besiktas/TUR) and Elverum Handball Herrer (34:24 against Bosnian champions Sloga/BIH).
And also 2011 Polish champions Wisła Plock are already on their way to the Group Stage before travelling on Saturday east of Ural to Sungul Snezhinsk after their 37:23 win.
In contrast to Saint-Raphaël their French compatriots of HBC Nantes can put the champagne on ice already after beating S.L. Benfica (POR) 29:21, and aside last season’s VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finalists RK Cimos Koper from Slovenia seem to have a quite easy task also flying to Portugal, facing FC Porto Vitalis after a 29:23 in the first leg.
But some second leg encounters will bring much more thrills – especially for the Danish side KIF Kolding. The club boosted with former AG København players or Kim Andersson (three times VELUX EHF Champions League winner with THW Kiel) caused the major surprise in the first leg after losing at Russian club Permskie Medvedi by 27:30.
KIF player Kasper Irming is still confident: “To be down by three goals is basically OK for the return match, but we were eager to win this match at Russia – and there was a possibility to take the points. In Denmark our attack needs to be improved and thereby we have to avoid the Russian counter-attacks,” he is quoted on the KIF website.
Two more first leg matches ended only with a one goal margin for the respective hosts: Croatian RK Sisca beat their Slovenian neighbours of Maribor Branik 30:29 and Ukrainian champions HC Motor Zaporozhye took the closest possible gap against Austrian champions Alpla HC Hard by 27:26.
Two EHF Cup semi-finalists of the previous seasons are also on the edge of elimination: Spanish side BM Aragon have to bridge the gap of a 26:30 at Eskilstuna Guif (SWE), while German former EHF Champions League winner SC Magdeburg will have to fight not only with seven players on the field, but with the frenetic spectators at Vardar Skopje after their close 30:27 victory in the first leg.
The aggregate winners of those 15 remaining matches qualify for the four groups with each four teams of the next stage, which starts 9 February and includes six match days before the quarterfinalists are known.
The draw for the Group Phase will be held on the fringes of the Women’s EHF EURO in Serbia on 6 December in the Hyatt Regency hotel in Belgrade.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / br
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