ROUND PREVIEW: KIF Kolding Kobenhavn and SC Magdeburg’s meeting in the first round of the EHF Cup Group Phase will be a remake of the penultimate EHF Champions League 2001/02 game.
Rematch of 2002 Champions League Semi-final
When KIF Kolding Kobenhavn and SC Magdeburg meet in Group C of the EHF Cup Group Phase on Saturday, it will be a revenge match of the EHF Champions League 2001/02 Semi-final.
In Group A, Danish club GOG celebrate their return to the European stage after a seven-year absence when they take on Saint Raphael, while in Group B, Frisch Auf Göppingen begin their title defence against Granollers, who also reached the finals last season.
In Group D, the first Finnish team ever in an EHF Cup Group Phase will start their maiden voyage, as Cocks visit Helvetia Anaitasuna.
It is the first time ever that the small Slovenian town Ribnica, with a population just above 10,000, is represented on the European scene. Having eliminated SCM Politehnica from Romania in Qualification Round 3, Riko Ribnica are ready for the group phase, which they open from Group A on Thursday evening.
Their opponents will be of the finest calibre as it will be 2015 EHF Cup champions Füchse Berlin who visit Sportni center Ribnica.
Füchse did not make it to the group phase last year and are determined to go all the way this season, while for the Ribnica team gaining international experience is one of the main goals. Their squad consists entirely of Slovenian players with the exception of Bosnian right back Alen Kulenovic.
Saint-Raphael Var Handball (FRA) vs GOG (DEN)
Saint-Raphael reached the group phase by eliminating Belarusian SKA Minsk on aggregate in the third qualification round, and are eager to improve on last season, when they made it to the quarter-finals of the EHF Cup.
In their first group phase match the French side are taking on GOG, who have proud traditions in European – not least in the Champions League – but have been absent from European cup handball for the past seven years.
GOG qualified for the EHF Cup by winning the bronze medal in the domestic championship, and the traditional Danish team travel to France with no less than three World Championship 2017 silver medallists in their roster: Goalkeeper Espen Christensen, back Goeran Johannessen and left wing Magnus Joendal were all part of the Norwegian side who reached the final in France less than two weeks ago.
HC Midtjylland are celebrating their first season ever on the European scene. As surprise winners of the Danish Cup last season, the team from Herning are opening their group phase campaign at home against Porto.
The Portuguese team have rich and proud history in Europe, counting qualification for the group phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League in the 2013/14 and 2015/16 seasons as their finest achievements so far.
However, with Norwegian World Championship silver medallists Eivind Tangen and Espen Lie Hansen in the team, the Danish hosts are ready to offer the ambitious visitors tough resistance.
Frisch Auf Göppingen (GER) vs Fraikin BM. Granollers (ESP)
Both teams made it to the finals last season, but did not meet each other.
While Göppingen won the competition, Granollers finished third. Now, with the home advantage, the German side appear to be favourites in the Saturday night meeting in EWS Arena.
Göppingen want to defend the title they won last season, but their first objective is to prove they deserve a place at the final weekend they are to host in May.
Two debutants will have the honour of opening the EHF Cup group phase this season.
While Tatabanya are playing their maiden EHF Cup Group Phase, Maccabi Tel Aviv are the first team from Israel ever to reach this stage of a European cup competition.
As Tatabanya’s usual home arena does not meet the requirements for EHF Cup matches, the historic meeting between the two teams will take place in Audi Arena, Györ, which is usually the fortress of women’s side Györi Audi ETO KC.
KIF Kolding Kobenhavn (DEN) vs SC Magdeburg (GER)
When these teams lock horns in Sydbank Arena in Kolding, it will be a rematch of the semi-final in the EHF Champions League 2001/02 – and it will be the Danish side chasing revenge.
Magdeburg and KIF met in the semi-final stage of Europe’s top-flight competition 15 years ago, and Magdeburg won both legs – 29:19 at home and 28:25 in Denmark, before going on to win the final against Veszprém.
Current coach Bennet Wiegert was part of the Magdeburg team in those semi-finals, while Lasse Boesen, now sports director for KIF, played left back for the Danish side.
It is the second time MT Melsungen are competing in the EHF Cup and the Bundesliga side are keen to avoid the same fate as two years ago, when they were eliminated on away goals in the quarter-final against Danish club Skjern.
First however, they have to make it through the group phase with success, and their opening hurdle comes from Portugal.
Benfica are breaking new land, playing their first EHF Cup Group Phase after reaching the third and last qualification round in 2013 then again in 2014. Last year, they qualified for the final of the Challenge Cup before taking the step up to the EHF Cup Group Phase this season.
Helvetia Anaitasuna (ESP) vs Cocks (FIN)
It is history in the making when Cocks visit Pamplona on Saturday night – the team from the small town of Riihimäki are the first Finnish squad ever to enter a European cup group phase.
Their opening opponent will be Helvetia Anaitasuna, who are in the EHF Cup for the second time.
The city of Pamplona has proud European traditions from Portland San Antonio’s Champions League achievements, but Helvetia Antaisuna have only been in the EHF Cup once before, also reaching the group phase last year.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / cg
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