The verdict is yet to come
With the penultimate round of VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase matches starting on Thursday in Schaffhausen, it is not long before the final verdict for Group A is known.
Can Barcelona leave Paris behind, and can Plock seal the Last 16 deal? These questions could be answered on Sunday – under certain circumstances.
• The race for the top position and Group A’s final Last 16 spot can be decided this weekend
• Plock can book a ticket to the knock-out phase, while Barcelona can secure top spot on the table
• Gabor Csaszar’s meeting with his Hungarian country-fellows headlines the Kadetten versus Veszprém encounter
• Former THW stars Filip Jicha and Wael Jallouz return to their former club with FC Barcelona
Kadetten Schaffhausen (SUI) vs Telekom Veszprém (HUN)
Thursday 2 March, 20:00 local time, live on ehfTV
The duel between the second top scorer of the VELUX EHF Champions League 2016/17, Gabor Csaszar (71 goals), and his Hungarian compatriots will be the second-last game in the competition for Kadetten.
Despite having the postponed game against Flensburg still ahead, Kadetten are out of the race for the Last 16 with only two points in their account.
On the other hand, a result like the 32:28 in the first leg between these sides would be ideal for Veszprém’s fight to remain in third position – which would mean home matches in the second legs of the Last 16 and, if qualified, the quarter-finals.
After winning their last two matches at Silkeborg and Kiel, Veszprém’s away balance looks much brighter than at the start of the season. And their prospects on Thursday seem to be just as positive – Schaffhausen have never beaten Veszprém from a total of five encounters.
SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs Bjerringbro-Silkeborg (DEN)
Saturday 4 March, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV
Can Bjerringbro-Silkeborg conquer another fortress? After their sensational win at Kiel, they are ready for the closest away match of the VELUX EHF Champions League season and will again be accompanied by many fans at Flens-Arena.
If they want to make it to the Last 16, only wins count for the team of head coach Peter Bredsdorff-Larsen. BSV are two points behind Plock, but have won the direct encounter against the Polish runners-up on aggregate goals. Thus, finishing the group phase with the same number of points as Plock would be enough for the Danish champions.
But the road to the knock-out stage could be determined this weekend: If BSV lose at Flensburg and Plock take a point against PSG, the Polish side will be through.
For Flensburg, the only remaining goal is to finish in third position. Despite consecutive defeats against PSG and Barcelona, Ljubomir Vranjes’ team are the favourites against the Danish squad, as they won the first leg with a clear final score of 25:19.
Johan Jakobsson, Thomas Mogensen and Tobias Karlsson are out for Flensburg, while BSV will have to replace Johan Hansen for the clash.
Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Sunday 5 March, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV
This match can decide both open questions of Group A within 60 minutes: If Plock take at least a point and BSV lose at Flensburg, the ‘Oilers’ are through to the Last 16. And in case of a defeat on Sunday and a draw between Barcelona at Kiel, PSG will lose the race for the top position.
On the other hand, a PSG win would postpone the verdict to the very last round of group phase matches when PSG and Barcelona switch Round 13 opponents, as the French side meet Kiel and Barcelona host Plock.
Plock proved their home strength with a win against Kiel and a draw against Veszprém – but are still considered the underdogs in this duel against a fistful of French world champions.
PSG had problems in the first leg and took a close 33:30 victory after an equal first half (15:15). In total, the balance now is three wins in three matches for the French champions.
THW Kiel (GER) vs FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP), ehfTV.com Match of the Week
Sunday 5 March, 19:45 local time, live on ehfTV
The ehfTV.com Match of the Week is one of the classics in international handball. Both sides combine for a total of 11 EHF Champions League trophies, though they only met in the finals twice (2000 in favour of Barcelona, 2010 in favour of Kiel).
The overall balance is currently 11 Barcelona wins, 10 Kiel victories and one draw. In October 2009, THW won at Palau Blaugrana for the last time, and in the same season, Barcelona were victorious in Kiel. Last season, THW eliminated the then defending champions on the way to Cologne.
The first leg in 2016/17 was a thriller with a happy end for the Catalans, who won 26:25 after a 10:13 deficit at the break. Since then the powerhouses went separate ways: Barcelona are the most successful group phase team with 11 wins from 12 rounds, while Kiel are 11 points behind the group leaders in fifth.
The German team’s weak home matches are responsible for this balance, as Kiel lost against Veszprém, Flensburg and Bjerringbro. Another home defeat for THW would see Barcelona step over their final obstacle to topping the group.
One major difference between the teams, beyond the number of points, is their attack: While Kiel only conceded eight goals more than Barcelona (299:307), they scored 48 goals less (350:302).
After his extraordinary performance against Flensburg last weekend, it will be crucial to see whether Barca goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas can also win the duel against Kiel’s world-class duo Andreas Wolff and Niklas Landin, who is supposed to be back after his thumb injury.
TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg