Preview for Round 4 of the EHF Cup Group Phase
The race for Nantes goes on: After a one week break, the 16 teams in the Men’s EHF Cup Group Phase are back on the courts for the fourth round.
The fight for eight (or only six) spots for the quarter-finals continues, and this weekend could provide some early decisions.
The teams at the top of Group B, Löwen and Kolding, and Group D, Magdeburg and Nantes, face each other for the second time in succession.
Wisla Plock need to finish their series of defeats to keep their hopes of a quarter-final ticket alive, while Maribor and Holstebro can break away in Group C. Three teams find themselves equal on points in Group A and continue to fight for a quarter-final berth.
Everything is open in the race for qualification from Group A. Göppingen, La Rioja and Koper are level on four points before the start of the “second half” of the Group Phase.
Eskilstuna Guif (SWE) vs. Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)
Saturday, 16:00 hrs. local time
First leg: 23:29
Eskilstuna hope for their first points, while La Rioja are aiming for their first away victory in the Group Phase. If the Swedish team lose their fourth straight match, they are definitely out for the race for the knock-out stage.
The Spaniards can make a huge step towards the next stage before facing their two main rivals in their remaining matches.
Frisch Auf Göppingen (GER) vs. RK Cimos Koper (SLO)
Saturday, 19:30 hrs. local time
First leg: 39:36
After their defeat at La Rioja, Göppingen hit back and defeated Cimos away from home. Now the Germans are aiming to win this decisive encounter, as both teams have the same opponents in their final matches.
The only home match Göppingen have lost in the last six seasons in the EHF Cup was the final against another German club, Lemgo, in 2006. This strength at home makes the defending champions the favourite in this duel.
Only a Löwen home defeat and a Presov home victory could create some tension in this Group: Otherwise Löwen and Kolding will remain on the two top positions until the end.
TATRAN Presov (SLK) vs. HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR)
Saturday, 20:30 hrs. local time
First leg: 32:27
The Slovaks proved their strength not only by winning the first encounter against the Ukrainians, but also pushing Rhein Nckar Löwen all the way in their opener. Presov are supposed to be the favourite in this game and a victory would already end all hopes of progression for Zaporozhye.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs. KIF Kolding (DEN)
Sunday, 17:00 hrs. local time
First leg: 23:25
The top clash of this weekend: If Löwen (four points) win the encounter against the table topper (six points) the race for the top position will rage on, but an away victory would all but secure the first position for Kolding.
At the moment, no one can judge if Nantes will directly qualify for the EHF Cup Finals on their home court, only the top ranked team can absolutely be sure to clinch their berth for the knock-out stage.
If Nantes finish as winner of their Group D or will be among the three best second ranked teams they will go straight to the Finals, skipping the quarter-final. In this case, only three quarter-finals will be played and the lowest second ranked team will be eliminated.
Can Plock stop their downswing or will the train to Nantes leave without the Poles? Will Maribor and Holstebro remain unbeaten?
Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs. RK Maribor Branik (SLO)
Saturday, 18:00 hrs. local time
First leg: 23:26
Orlen Wisla Plock were predicted to be one of the main contenders for the quarter-final and even the EHF Cup Finals in Nantes, but after three rounds, the Poles have their backs against the wall with only two points and a run of two defeats.
Another loss against the surprise package from Slovenia (five points) will leave Plock on the brink of elimination. A win for Maribor can extend their advantage over Plock to five points and keep them on top of the group.
Team Tvis Holstebro (DEN) vs. Elverum Handball Herrer (NOR)
Sunday, 15:00 hrs. local time
First leg: 28:28
The Danes threw away a lead in the first leg against Elverum and now they are eager for revenge.
Another defeat Elverum, who have earned their one and only point against Holstebro, and they are out of the race for the quarter-finals. Tvis need a win to put themselves in a strong position before their crucial matches against Maribor and Plock.
SC Magdeburg are in a brilliant position to secure their place at the top of the Group on Saturday, while Besiktas search for their first point.
Besiktas JK (TUR) vs. Stiinta Municipal Dedeman Bacau (ROU)
Saturday, 15:00 hrs. local time
First leg: 24:26
After three straight away matches, Besiktas have their first Group Phase game at Istanbul and want to start catching up with the rest of the pack.
Like Eskiltuna and Zaporozhye, the Turks still have zero points on their account, but have shown a strong performance in the first leg at Bacau.
The result of this encounter could prove worthless, depending on the other result in Group D. Only if Bacau win and Nantes lose, can the Romanians continue to push for second place, which would mean the elimination of the EHF Cup Finals host.
SC Magdeburg (GER) vs. HBC Nantes (FRA)
Saturday, 15:00 hrs. local time
First leg: 27:20
A seven goal gap from the first encounter seems to be a good base for SC Magdeburg – in their last home match of the Group Phase.
With six points in their account and games at Istanbul and Bacau ahead, a victory against Nantes (four points) would put the former EHF Champions League winners in a perfect position.
Nantes want to prove that their clear defeat at home was just a momentary setback on their way to a home EHF Cup Finals.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor