ROUND PREVIEW: The first leg of the Men's EHF Cup Quarter-finals will be played across three Easter days.
Six teams with hopes, only three will make it
Usually, a quarter-final round involves eight teams and four meetings, hence the word quarter-final. In this case, however, organisers Füchse Berlin have already qualified for the EHF Cup Finals in the Max-Schmeling-Halle in the German capital on 17 and 18 May, so only three tickets are left.
Over Easter, the six remaining teams will be playing the first legs of the quarter-finals. Six teams who all hope to go to Berlin, but only three will make it.
After four successive years in the VELUX EHF Champions League, it is EHF Cup for Constanta this season, and so far the Romanian top team has made it further than they ever did in the Champions League.
Not since the 2008/09 season, when they reached the quarter-final of the Cup Winners' Cup have Constanta been this far in a European competition, but quite naturally they do not want to stop at that, and eliminating a so strong team as French Chambéry Savoie Handball in the group phase has inevitable strengthened their self-confidence.
Their opponents in their attempt to reach Berlin will be Swedish Lugi HF who have never been this far in Europe, but who still causes respect in Constanta
As their left wing George Buricea put it in a recent interview with eurohandball.com: “We have the utmost respect for the Scandinavian handball, we know they have very good players, but Lugi was the best choice for us. Of course, the quarter-final will not be easy. We expect two tough games against Lugi, and they have an advantage by playing the second leg at home.”
Lugi will be flying to Romania with fresh self-confidence after having won the second quarter-final of the Swedish championship play-off 24:21 away against Challenge Cup semi-finalists IK Sävehof Monday night.
Lugi are now leading 2:0 in that quarter-final series which goes over five matches. In the EHF Cup an overall win over two matches will do.
The Challenge Cup winners from 2010, Sporting are chasing more success now in the more prestigious EHF Cup, where they have surprised quite a lot of people all over handball Europe by reaching the quarter-final.
In the Pavilhao Desportivo Municipal de Mafra they will be trying to make another surprise on Easter Sunday, when they take on Pick Szeged, whom many people consider to be among the favourites to win the tournament.
And the performances of the Portuguese team are causing respect by their Hungarian quarter-final opponents.
“We are very aware of the important match against Sporting. They won against Skjern in both matches and made a great match against Montpellier. The most important thing for us is to make a full match in Lisbon,” Szeged coach Juan Carlos Pastor told eurohandball.com.
In Sporting, they are looking forward to try and take the next step in their European adventure.
“This is a historical achievement for us and also for national handball in Portugal. There are no easy teams left at this stage, and we hope that we'll play well and achieve a positive result at home that allows us to continue dreaming of Berlin,” Sporting's sports director Helena Duarte said.
Through this all-French encounter, French handball is sure to be represented at the EHF Cup Finals for the second year in succession.
Last season it was exactly Nantes who represented France in the Finals and reached second position.
On that occasion Nantes were organisers and managed to go directly from the group phase to the Finals, so playing the quarter-finals is a new experience to them. So would a win against Montpellier be, as Nantes have never succeeded in 12 attempts.
However, Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer finds this statistic quite meaningless.
“In my mind, Nantes are one of the teams that have made most progress in Europe over the last two seasons. Nantes came out of the strongest group of the competition, beating Pick Szeged by nearly ten goals. That says all about the quality. I cannot name a favourite right now,” Patrice Canayer recently told eurohandball.com.
Canayer's adversary, Nantes coach Thierry Anti agrees that there is no obvious favourite.
“I always hear guys saying it is 50-50, but this time it really is. They (Montpellier) have got a slight advantage playing at home in the second leg, but apart from that, this will be very open,” Anti found.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / br
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