TOURNAMENT PREVIEW: The champions of Belarus, Serbia, Slovakia and the Netherlands meet in the Sportshall Victoria of Brest, Belarus this weekend in Qualification Group 1 for one ticket to the VELUX EHF Champions League group phase
Four champions chasing the dream in Belarus
Four champions of their respective nations go into battle this weekend, with only one set to reach the highest stage in club handball.
Host team HC Breskov Minsk from Belarus, HC Vojvodina from Serbia, TATRAN Presov from Slovakia and Dutch Targos Bevo HC. One will progress to the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase, while the rest continue in the EHF Cup.
For the victorious side, the national champions of Germany (THW Kiel), FYR Macedonia (HC Metalurg) and Croatia (HC PPD Zagreb) await, alongside the intimidating prospects of Spain and France’s number two, Naturhouse La Rioja and PSG Handball.
HC Vojvodina (SRB) vs TATRAN Presov (SVK)
The champions of Serbia and Slovakia will be the first teams to take the court of the Sportshall Victoria on Saturday and both have experience of this level, as they were also in the qualifiers last year, but both failed to win the final game.
Vojvodina´s head coach Djordje Cirkovic expects a difficult task again this year.
“We are coming to the tournament as the team with probably the smallest budget, we don’t have as high a rating as Meshkov Brest and Tatran Presov.
“Our goal is to do our best and give a good impression in Brest and if we get the chance to win we will try to make use of it. In my opinion it will be a very tough tournament and it will be very interesting,” Djordje Cirkovic tells ehfCL.com.
Having been in the EHF Cup Group Phase for the last two seasons, TATRAN Presov will be eager to change that into a comeback to the top competition’s group phase, in which their latest appearance was during the 2010/11 season, when they finished bottom of Group B.
Failure to qualify three years in a row will have sharpened the appetite of the Slovakian title holders to take that next step.
HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs Targos Bevo HC (NED)
Last season Belarus was represented by Dinamo Minsk, who did qualify for the group phase, but could not go any further.
This year it is Meshkov Brest’s turn to be the leading light of Belarusian club handball in Europe.
Backing of the home support should help the side in their quest to reach the group phase and there is no doubt in the mind of Croatian head coach Zelko Babic about the objectives for his team this weekend.
“Our goal is clear – we have to qualify for the Champions League,” he told ehfCL.com recently.
While Brest have not been in the Champions League since the 2007/08 season, when a series of four successive appearances came to an end, their adversaries Targos Bevo have never been in the Champions League before.
So far, the Dutch champions have yet to go any further in Europe than Round 2 of the EHF Cup and the Cup Winners Cup, which means that head coach Martin Vlijm is well aware of the challenge that awaits his team.
“We will have to be at our peak all the time. Every game is a final, and what we are going to do for the rest of this season will be decided within this one weekend,” he said.
3/4 Placement match
The losers of the two Saturday matches meet to decide the third place between them. Both will continue to the EHF Cup, with the winners advancing to Qualification Round 3, while the defeated team will take on the winner of HV. KRAS/Volendam from the Netherlands versus Slovakia’s HK Topolcany
The two winners from Saturday complete the event in Brest with the battle first place and a ticket for Group A of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase. The losing team will continue their European adventure in Qualification Round 3 of the EHF Cup
Both semi-finals and the final in this group will be broadcast live and free at ehfTV.com.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / cor
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