ROUND REVIEW: Big first leg wins practically send French and Swedish sides to the group phase already, while Slovakian Sporta Hlohovec are also close to the Last 16 after a six goal win in Norway.
Montpellier and Kristianstad practically in the group phase, Hlohovec close
After Füchse Berlin and HC Meskov Brest opened the third qualification round of the Men’s EHF Cup on Wednesday, with a 22:20 win for Füchse as the result, the remaining 30 teams were involved in the first leg this weekend, after which several teams are already very close to the group phase, to say the least.
Montpellier Agglomeration HB have proud traditions in the Champions League, with the win in 2003 as their greatest triumph this far. Now it is the EHF Cup for the French side, and their group phase berth should only be a formality after their 38:26 win in Russia against HC Kaustik. With Slovenian right winger Dragan Gajic as top scorer with nine goals, Montpellier were leading by nine goals already at half-time, and could cruise to a 12 goal win at the end.
IFK Kristianstad should not get in serious trouble either, when the Swedes travel to Romania this coming weekend for the second leg against Stiinta Municipal Dedeman Bacau. Supported by almost 4,000 spectators in the Kristianstad Arena, Kristianstad were leading by ten goals already at half time, and after the 60 minutes, the team of Swedish national coach Ola Lindgren could book a win of no less than 40:25.
HC Sporta Hlohovec can also allow themselves to be pretty optimistic in terms of qualifying for the group phase, although the Slovakian runners-up cannot show as big a first leg win as Montpellier and Kristianstad. However, their 26:20 win in Norway against OIF Arendal makes them clear favourites for the aggregate win ahead of the return match at home.
Hlohovec were in control for almost the entire game in the Sør Amfi in Arendal, where the visitors had left winger Frantisek Zatko as most scoring player in the match with eight goals. “Perhaps this was the best performance of my team since I have joined the club,” coach Martin Liptak said for the official club website.
“We have achieved a splendid victory, but six goals in handball do not mean a lot.”
Their compatriots from Tatran Presov recorded a convincing 34:26 win over Slovenia’s Branik Maribor in front of 3,500 fans in a match of two group phase participants of the last season. “We could have won by a greater margin, but we have deprived ourselves of that by committing too many mistakes. It will be an even tougher match in Maribor and we have to show more concentration and fewer mistakes,” Tatran winger Tomas Urban (pictured below) said at the post-match press conference.
Usually, you would tend to regard a seven goal defeat away as a rather poor result before a return match at home, but actually Christian Berge, head coach by Norwegian champions Elverum HH, was pretty content after having seen his team lose 28:21 away to last season´s EHF Cup runners-up, HBC Nantes.
“We played a very good game, as we met a strong team today. I am really happy with the effort the lads showed,” Berge told the Norwegian newspaper Østlendingen after the defeat in front of 3657 spectators in the Palais des Sports de Beaulieu in Nantes.
Austrian champions Alpla HC Hard just narrowly missed a sensation in the “Alpine derby” at Chambery. Four minutes before the end the visitors led by three goals, but still a 30:31 defeat can be considered as a very positive result ahead of the second leg match.
One of several Round 3 teams with proud traditions in the Champions League is Reale Ademar Leon, but this year the Spaniards may have to work real hard to just reach the group phase of the EHF Cup. That is a fact after their 34:29 defeat in Croatia to RK Nexe who have only been among the last 16 in the tournament once before, in the 2011/12 season.
The versatile backcourt player Luka Sokolic who has returned home to Croatia this season after his Scandinavian Odyssey to Kolding and Eskilstuna did his bit for Nexe with seven goals.
Aarhus Haandbold were leading 27:20 late in the second half of their home game against HC Zomimak-M, but still the Macedonians got away with a relatively narrow 29:26 defeat – a result which frustrated Aarhus' right back Rune Ohm who scored no less than 13 goals, ten of which were scored in the second half.
In other matches Romanian champions HCM Constanta take a one goal advantage from court of Denmark's Mors Thy (27:26), exactly like another last season's Champions League participant Pick Szeged, who beat Benfica Lisbon 25:24. The city rivals of Benfica - Sporting tied RK Porec in Croatia (24:24) as did TSV Hannover-Burgdorf at their European debut at Kadetten Schaffhausen (28:28).
The Hungary's Csurgo prevailed by two goals (31:29) in a clash against Turkish champions Besiktas in Istanbul and Sweden's Lugi also snatched a two-goal victory at Athens against AEK (24:22).
Find the complete overview of the first leg matches here
TEXT: Peter Bruun / br
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