New faces, big names
The playing system remains the same, but except two clubs remaining from the premiere season, all faces will be new in the Group Phase of the Men’s EHF Cup. Here are some facts and figures before the Group Phase draw on Thursday (12:00 hrs. local time, live stream on ehfTV.com).
Only two teams of last season’s group phase made it back to those 16 teams, which clinched their berth from the third qualification round - last season’s finalists and hosts of the premiere edition of the EHF Cup Finals HBC Nantes from France and Tatran Presov from Slovakia.
All 14 remaining teams had either been playing in different EHF European Cup competitions last season, or have their debut on international stage.
From EHF Cup to VELUX EHF Champions League
Five teams of last season’s Group Phase qualified for the VELUX EHF Champions League this season. KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN), Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP), Rhein Neckar Löwen (GER), Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) and HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) proved that the reformed EHF Cup is an ideal platform to prepare for the European top flight.
From VELUX EHF Champions League to EHF Cup
Due to different final rankings in the domestic leagues and due to the result of the VELUX EHF Champions League qualification in September some big names and former EHF Champions League participants are part of the EHF Cup Group Phase now.
Like SC Magdeburg (GER, 2002) in the previous season even one former EHF Champions League winner is part of the group stage. This time it is Montpellier Agglomeration from France.
Exactly ten years after raising the trophy they first missed the direct qualification for the Champions League by only one goal compared to Dunkerque in the domestic league – and then failed in the qualification play-offs against Polish runners-ups Wisla Plock.
Additionally five more teams participated in the VELUX EHF Champions League in the previous season - Reale Ademar Leon (ESP), Chambery Savoie (FRA), Füchse Berlin (GER), Pick Szeged (HUN) and HCM Constanta (ROU).
From Champions League qualification to EHF Cup Group Phase
All three teams, which failed in the wildcard qualification play-offs, have qualified for the EHF Cup Group Phase now: Füchse Berlin (GER, loser against HSV Hamburg), Montpellier Agglomeration (FRA, loser against Wisla Plock) and Pick Szeged (HUN, loser against Metalurg Skopje).
Additionally HCM Constanta (ROU) and Tatran Presov (SVK) made it to the EHF Cup Group Phase after losing their respective finals in the Champions League qualification tournaments.
The only qualification tournament finalist, which missed the EHF Cup Group Phase were Serbian champions RK Vojvodina after losing both third round qualification matches against Skjern Handball from Denmark.
From zero to hero
HC Sporta Hlohovec from Slovakia are the only team, which had to go all the way by now, starting in the Qualification Round 1. After eliminating Otmar St. Gallen (SUI) in the first and Bosnian champions Borac Banja Luka in the second round, the Slovakian side made their dream come true by sailing past OIF Arendal from Norway.
Kristianstad (SWE), Csurgo (HUN), Skjern (DEN), Lugi (SWE), Sporting (POR), Chambery (FRA), Zomimak (MKD) and Nantes (FRA) started their mission in Round 2 – as all remaining seven teams were set in qualification Round 3.
Nine national champions failed on their way to the group phase in qualification: Esch (LUX), Banja Luka (BIH), Haukar (ISL), Maccabi (ISR) in Round 2 and Hard (AUT), Vojvodina (SRB), Elverum (NOR), Besiktas (TUR) and AEK Athens (GRE) in Round 3.
The only national champions among those 16 teams are HCM Constanta (ROU) and Tatran Presov (SVK).
By looking upon the nations which are represented France take Germany’s role of last season by three teams among the 16 participants (Montpellier, Nantes and Chambery), followed by Sweden (Kristianstad and Lugi), Slovakia (Presov and Hlohovec), Hungary (Szeged, Csurgoi) and Germany (Berlin, Hannover-Burgdorf) with two teams each.
All other nations (Denmark, Spain, FYR Macedonia, Portugal and Romania) are represented by one team.
None of those three Germans teams, which were part of the EHF Cup Group Phase are back again, as defending champions Rhein Neckar Löwen progressed to the VELUX EHF Champions League and former EHF Cup champions Göppingen and Magdeburg did not qualify for any European competition.
The comparison of nations to last season’s Group Phase of the EHF Cup: Germany (3, now 2), Denmark (2, now 1), Slovenia (2 now 0), Spain (1, now 1), France (1, now 3), Norway (1, now 0), Poland (1, now 0), Romania (1, now 1), Slovakia (1, now 2), Sweden (1, now 2), Turkey (1, now 0), Ukraine (1, now 0).
Hannover-Burgdorf, Csurgo and Zomimak made it to the group phase of the EHF Cup in their first European season.
Montpellier Agglomeration have their comeback in the EHF Cup after participating in this competition in 1997 for the last time. One year they were part of the Cup Winners’ Cup and 14 straight times they qualified for the EHF Champions League. Swedish side Lugi had been part of the EHF Cup in 1998 for the last (and only time).
Big names on the court
And some big names and even Champions League winners are part of those teams in the Group Phase. Magnus Jernemyr (Lugi), Konstantin Igropoulo and Iker Romero (both Füchse Berlin) won the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in 2011 with FC Barcelona.
While Valero Rivera, Jorge Maqueda and Alberto Entrerrios (all HBC Nantes) became world champions with Spain in January 2013, Thierry Omeyer and Michael Guigou are the most decorated players of the group phase. They were part of the 2003 Champions League winner squad of Montpellier.
With the national team of France they won twice Olympic Games (2008, 2012), twice World Championships (2009, 2011) and also twice EHF EURO (2006, 2010). Besides that the goalkeeping legend Omeyer also gained the World Champion title in 2001 and three EHF Champions League titles in 2007, 2010 and 2012).
TEXT: Björn Pazen / br