ROUND PREVIEW: Two matches of the first round live on ehfTV and all games with a new live ticker as six recently crowned European champions will enter courts over the weekend.
Next stage of the elimination race to Berlin begins
Some failed to qualify for the Group Phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Some overcame the three EHF Cup qualifications rounds in the autumn. All together, they form the 16 teams who are now ready for the next stage in the elimination race to be among the four teams in the Men's EHF Cup Finals in Berlin.
The group phase is part of the EHF Cup for the second time.
At first, those 16 teams are competing for one of the two top spots in their four respective groups and thus qualify for the quarter-finals.
Regarding the quarter-finals, there are three possibilities, depending on Füchse's performance in the group phase:
However, compared to the premiere edition of the EHF Cup Group Phase, an important change in the regulations has been adopted as results from all matches in the group will be counted for the ranking of the second teams. Last season only matches against first and third teams in the group were relevant for the ranking.
Squads with new faces
Not all outfits look the same as when they qualified for the group phase, as several clubs have been quite active in the “transfer window” over the winter.
One of the most prominent transfers by the EHF Cup participants is Swedish international Jonas Källman joining Hungarian Pick Szeged after half a season with IFK Skövde in his home country. Before then, the 33-year-old left wing played in Atletico Madrid.
Another interesting signing is Stefan Terzic joining Macedonian HC Zomimak-M on loan from Vardar Skopje . As late as May last year, the 19-year old Serbian right back could lift the VELUX EHF Champions League trophy with HSV Hamburg.
You might also say that a rather famous name has appeared by Skjern Håndbold all of a sudden, as Danish international Nikolaj Markussen is appearing in Skjern Håndbold's team roster. However, the 211 cm tall left back is not likely play anymore this season, as he is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon.
Some clubs have also said goodbye to players, though. That goes for TSV Hannover-Burgdorf who had to see Hungarian international Tamas Mocsai leave for MKB Veszprém or Slovenian Borut Mackovsek for Dinamo Minsk.
Six European champions in action
If anyone thinks that the big names can only be seen in the VELUX EHF Champions League, a look at the squads in the EHF Cup Group Phase proves the opposite.
For instance, no less than six of France's European new champions are to be found in the competition along with a number of other stars from the EHF EURO 2014 in Denmark last month.
In the other Group B match this weekend, two further participants in the final of the EHF EURO 2014 on 26 January will appear.
Danish silver medalists Kasper Søndergard and Henrik Møllgaard and their teammates from Skjern Håndbold are going to try and take the first step towards the quarter-finals, when the current number one in the Danish league receive Portuguese Sporting CP Saturday in Skjern Bank Arena Saturday afternoon.
This time, they will try and do better than last season, where they failed to qualify for the quarter-finals.
Their first hurdle in Group C will be the Swedish top team IFK Kristianstad who missed their group phase berth last season, as they lost to their countrymen from Eskilstuna in the last qualification round. The Slovakian-Swedish meeting is taking place in Presov Saturday evening.
Two matches live on ehfTV
Last year, HBC Nantes hosted the first edition of the EHF Cup Finals and finished second in the competition. This season, the Frenchmen are in the group phase once again, and this time they are starting their attempt for another success with a trip to Hungary. Current number one in the Hungarian league Pick Szeged will be their hosts in the Varosi Sportcsarnok Sunday at noon and this top clash will be streamed live and free of charge on ehfTV.com
Their first assignment in Group D will be the away game Sunday at noon against Romanian HCM Constanta who are often to be found in the Champions League, but who are in the EHF Cup this time. Also this game will be available for fans on ehfTV.com
The Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin will be the venue of the EHF Cup Finals in May. The hall will also be the place where two European champions will play in the late afternoon hours Sunday.
Goalkeeper Cyril Dumoulin and right back Alix Nyokas and their teammates from Chambery Savoie Handball will undoubtedly do their utmost to prevent Füchse Berlin from getting a smooth start in the group phase.
All matches provided with a live ticker
For the first time in this competition the handball fans will also have an opportunity to follow the running score, every goal and every match action in all group phase games real-time through the new live ticker service on eurohandball.com.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / br
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