ROUND PREVIEW: Only two teams are certain of qualification for the quarter-finals of the Men's EHF Cup before the last match day of the group stage.
Race for the quarter-finals comes to a halt
Bjerringbro-Silkeborg in Group C and Chambery Savoie Handball in Group D are the only teams 100% sure of proceeding to the quarter-finals ahead of the last match day of the group phase in the Men's EHF Cup this weekend.
Everything else is more or less open in the four groups, although HBC Nantes are very close to proceeding, not to the quarter-finals, but directly to the EHF Cup Finals, of which the French club is the organiser this season.
If Nantes qualify, there will only be three quarter-final ties, which means that the second placed team with the lowest points in the group phase will be out of the competition and the battle to avoid this cruel fate is close.
Four matches of the decisive last round of the group phase will be on offer on www.ehfTV.com
After two defeats in succession, Magdeburg's quarter-final berth, which once seemed so certain, is now in danger.
However, the Bundesliga team still have their fate in their own hands. A win at home against Dinamo, and SCM are in the quarter-finals.
Nevertheless, Dinamo Bucuresti still have the chance to reach the quarter-finals in case of a win in Germany, too.
The Romanian side can even win Group A, if they win in Magdeburg, and if Fraikin BM. Granollers do not win at home against Aalborg Handball.
Dinamo travel to Germany as Romanian league winners and their coach, former national team player Eliodor Voica is confident: "It is difficult to be successful in Germany, we know that, but it is not impossible.
"We have proved before that we can compete at this level and we must mobilise a copy of that ability Sunday," Voica said.
In the Magdeburg team, left wing Matthias Musche is cautious: "In their latest match against Granollers, Bucharest showed the same picture they have been showing throughout the group phase: That they are an experienced team who are not put down by a deficit.
Fraikin BM. Granollers (ESP) vs Aalborg Handball (DEN)
With two wins in a row – 34:29 at home against Magdeburg and 27:26 away against Dinamo Bucuresti – Granollers have put themselves on top of the group ahead of the last match, and now they have their faith in their own hands without depending on other results.
However, they will still need a win at home against Aalborg Handball to make it to the quarter-finals.
A draw or a defeat will make them dependent on the result of the match between SC Magdeburg and Dinamo Bucuresti – which they will know when they enter the court for the Aalborg match – and maybe also on results in other groups.
Aalborg have nothing at stake anymore as the Danish team lost their chances to reach the quarter-finals already a while ago, but their 26:25 win against Magdeburg last weekend demands respect even in Granollers.
Although three teams – Göppingen, HBC Nantes and Team Tvis Holstebro – may all finish Group B on eight points, Göppingen can still decide their destiny with a win in the Netherlands.
In case all three teams finish on the same number of points, the internal goal difference among those three teams will decide the ranking, and in this aspect, Göppingen are so well off, that a win against the Dutch champions will do the job for them.
OCI-LIONS will undoubtedly be motivated by their last chance to get at least a point in the group phase, but it is a huge question if that motivation will be enough.
Göppingen won the first meeting between the two teams with an impressive 40:20 result. Less will do this time.
Nantes, the organiser of the EHF Cup Finals, are already very close to qualifying directly for the semi-finals.
This will be the case, if they win the group or finish as one of the three best second placed teams in the group phase.
As long as they avoid a defeat by 15 goals or more in the Gråkjær Arena of Holstebro, they will have achieved their goal. And they also will, in case Göppingen do not manage to win against OCI-LIONS on Saturday.
In Holstebro, head coach Patrick Westerholm realises that reaching the quarter-finals is no longer realistic: "Of course, we cannot expect to win by 15 goals, especially as Nantes will undoubtedly be keen on reaching the finals, which means that they will come at us with everything they've got.
“When you lose as big in your away games as we did by losing by nine goals in Nantes and by 13 in Göppingen, you cannot expect to proceed. So we simply focus on finishing our European campaign in good style," Patrick Westerholm tells eurohandball.com.
The excitement on the last match day is very well illustrated by the fact that this match is actually the only game in the last round, in which neither team have anything at stake.
Silkeborg are sure to win the group and to be the only Danish team in the quarter-finals this season, while Winterthur are without a chance to proceed.
Silkeborg can use the match as preparation for the quarter-final and for the play-offs in the Danish championship, while the visitors will probably want to bow out of the Men's EHF Cup with a bang.
The winner of this match will finish second in the group, though a draw will do for Saint-Raphael, but it is a question if this will be enough for a ticket to the quarter-finals in case there will by only three quarter-final ties.
A home win will bring Minsk on six points, which the visitors will also reach in case of a draw, and there is a big risk that six points will not be enough.
Saint-Raphael will be better off with a win, which will bring the French side on seven points, but even this may still not be enough.
Minsk's 20-year-old line player Artsem Karalek is determined to go for the chance, however small it might be: "We will try to beat Saint-Raphael and wait what will happen, but whatever does happen, this is still a big step in my career and for Minsk – it is a new level and a chance to show ourselves in Europe," Karalek told eurohandball.com.
Anaitasuna are the only team in the group with nothing at stake. With only two points, the Spanish hosts can no longer reach the quarter-finals.
To Ystad, on the other hand, everything is at stake. A win will secure the team from southern Sweden the second place with seven points and this will put them in a good position to reach the quarter-finals, even if there will only be three ties.
With those seven points, Ystad would at least be level with Group C's second placed, as it is already a fact that this is the maximum number two in Group C – in that case Saint-Raphael - can get. Therefore, it may be a matter of goal difference between Saint-Raphael and Ystad.
However, depending on the results in the other groups, number two in Group A or even in Group B may also be part of this big calculation, so it is no wonder that Ystad's coach Sebastian Seifert does not pay too much attention to the maths.
"We definitely go for the second place in the group, and we have proved that we can keep a good level in Europe, but I do not speculate about goal difference yet," Seifert told the official website of the Swedish Handball Federation.
Chambery have nothing to play for, as they secured the first place of the group already last weekend when they won 27:26 in Sweden against Ystad.
CSM still have a chance to reach the quarter-finals, but they will not only need a win in France.
As the Romanian side can only reach six points in case of a win, they will either have to hope for four quarter-finals or that at least one second placed team in one of the other groups get no more than six points either, in which case it will be a question of goal difference.
If it comes to goal difference, CSM's chances will improve, as they are only on minus four ahead of their last match. Therefore, a win in France would not put them in a bad position in this matter either.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / es, cor
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