ROUND PREVIEW: The EHF Cup Finals hosts Füchse Berlin can clinch a berth in the final tournament, if they succeed at Chambery. Two matches will be live on ehfTV.com.
Two teams can secure group wins
Pick Szeged in Group C and Füche Berlin in Group D can all secure the first place in their respective groups if they win their matches in the second last round of the group phase this weekend, while Montpellier can get extremely close to winning Group B.
One of the advantages of winning your group is the fact that you are sure to qualify for the quarter-final without getting mixed up in all the arithmetic regarding the second place, as only the best three second-place teams are sure to proceed to the quarter-final.
In Füchse's case, the advantage will be even greater. As organisers Berlin team will go all the way to the Men's EHF Cup Finals in the Max-Schmeling-Halle in Berlin if they win their group.
Several other teams have the chance to get very close to the quarter-final this weekend, though.
That goes for Lugi HF in the extremely open Group A, for Sporting CP in Group B, and for HBC Nantes, if they can win the top game in Group C against Szeged.
So far, Csurgoi KK have won their home matches in the competition, and they will probably need to go on with that in order to keep their dreams of the quarter-final alive.
The Hungarian hopes may be boosted by the fact that Leon have not been able to win away in the group phase yet.
However, the Spanish team can hardly afford a defeat in this match between the two strongest defences in the group, so a tough and tight affair may be expected in the Sports Hall Csurgo Saturday afternoon.
And Ademar Leon seem to be eager to make up for their poor away statstics. Already Thursday evening did the Spanish outfit left for Hungary in order to prepare thoroughly for the task.
So far, Lugi have done very well in their EHF Cup group phase debut, and through a win in the Färs&Frosta Sparbank Arena Saturday they will not only hold on to the first place in Group A. With seven points they will also be extremely close to the quarter-final.
For Hannover-Burgdorf, the conditions are crystal clear. Only wins count from now on, if the hope of reaching the quarter-final is to be kept alive. The “Recken” got their first win in their latest match at home against Reale Ademar Leon who were defeated narrowly 27:26, and still with only three points, the North German team will probably have also have to win their last two matches, away against Lugi and at home against Csurgói KK in order to stay in the race.
“On paper, Hannover is the best team in the group, so it will not be easy. They have several internationals in the team. It is true that we won away against them (32:28) but they know that through a win they have the chance to go on, so it will be no easy game. It think we have a chance, but it will take full commitment from our side. If we can do it, it will be the crown,” Lugi coach Tomas Axnér told his club's website.
Lugi will be missing line player Jonatan Leijonborg who has been suspended for two matches by the EHF Court of Handball after his red card in Lugi's latest EHF Cup match against Csurgói KK.
Hannover-Burgdorf will be without Frederic Repke who is sidelined with a knee injury.
Quite obviously, Montpellier are huge favourites, even away against pointless Zomimak, and it will be a great sensation, if the French top team does not still have maximum points when they leave FYR Macedonia after the game Saturday evening.
Montpellier won the first match between the two teams 41:22 at home, but less can probably do it for head coach Patrice Canayer and his men Saturday.
To Zomimak, who have no chance to reach the quarter-final anymore, the motivation will probably be the hope to get a big scalp, but the chances do not seem big for the team who has conceded the largest number of goals in the group phase.
Sporting CP (POR) vs Skjern Haandbold (DEN)
Sporting have been a positive surprise in the group phase so far, and through a home win against Skjern Sunday afternoon, they will at the very least be sure to finish in one of the two top spots in Group B. And with eight points, the Portuguese team will also be virtually sure to qualify for the quarter-final.
Sporting opened their successful group phase campaign against exactly Skjern whom they defeated as clearly as 32:25 at home.
In case of a defeat Sunday, though, Sporting may have to win their last match away against Montpellier in order to proceed in the tournament.
Head coach Frederico Santos is well aware of the situation.
“It's a very important game for our aspirations to qualify for the quarter-finals and against an opponent of value. We believe we are well prepared and will try to win the team through our defensive qualifies and fast offensive transitions, not allowing to organise defensively,” Frederico Santos told eurohandball.com.
To Skjern, the EHF Cup group phase has been a disappointment so far. The Danish top team still has a theoretical chance to reach the second place in the group. However, this will take a win of more than seven goals away against Sporting Sunday as well as a win at home against Zomimak on the last match day – and even in that case, Skjern will depend on Montpellier defeating Sporting in their last match.
Even if all this should happen, six points may still not be enough for Skjern to finish among the three best second-placed teams who proceed to the quarter-final.
With zero points, Kristianstad are long out of the race for the quarter-final tickets, while Presov still have a theoretical chance to reach second position in the group.
However, even in case of a Slovakian win in the Kristianstad Arena Saturday evening, Presov's last chance may vanish already Sunday. That will be the case if Nantes get at least a draw at home against group leaders Pick Szeged.
The TATRAN players cannot allow themselves to spend many thoughts on this, though. They will simply have to do their part of the job and hope for it to be enough.
HBC Nantes (FRA) vs Pick Szeged (HUN)
If Pick Szeged manage to get at least a draw in the Palais des Sport de Beaulieu, the Hungarian team will be sure to win the group before the last round.
If Nantes win, on the other hand, both teams will be virtually in the quarter-final, as they will both be on eight points which must be expected to be enough to finish among the three best second-placed teams.
As the first meeting between the two teams was won 28:27 by Szeged, a French win by at least two goals will bring Nantes on top of the group.
The respect is large in both camps ahead of this top game.
“To me, Szeged is one of the favourites to win the EHF Cup together with Berlin and Montpellier. They have a very good team which is at the level of the Champions League,” Nantes coach Thierry Anti said.
Szeged coach Juan Carlos Pastor returns the compliment.
“The team of HBC Nantes is very competitive. They never gave up in the first game against us, they fought till the last seconds. It is very hard to achieve victory against such a great team,” he said.
Füchse will get a great bonus if they can travel home from France with two points.
Not only will a win for the Berlin foxes mean that they win Group D. It will also mean that they can skip the quarter-finals and proceed directly to the EHF Cup Finals.
The reason is, of course, that Füchse are hosting the Finals this season, so a bit more than usual is at stake in Le Phare in Chambéry Saturday afternoon.
This also applies to the home team, though, as Chambéry can take a major step towards the quarter-final with a win, while a defeat may make it very difficult for them to proceed in the tournament.
Chambéry coack Mario Cavalli believes in a win, although he has great respect for visitors.
“We know that Berlin is the best team in the group, but we play to reach the first place and go to Constanta to decide the quarter-final qualification next week.
“We must be strong in the defence, and in the attack we will have to overcome one of the best goalkeepers in the world, (Silvio) Heinevetter,” Cavalli told eurohandball.com.
HC Sporta Hlohovec (SVK) vs HCM Constanta (ROU)
Sporta Holohovec have only the honour at stake in the City Sport hall in Hlohovec Saturday evening. The Slovakian hosts cannot escape the fourth and last place in the group anymore, while the situation is completely different for Constanta.
With four points after their first four matches, the Romanian team is in need of a win in order to keep up with Füchse and Chambéry in the two top positions.
This should be sufficient motivation for the visitors to live up to their status as favourites despite playing away.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / br
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