ROUND PREVIEW: After a three-week break, the battle for quarter-final spots is heating up with the penultimate round of the group phase being played this weekend
Men's EHF Cup approaches decision time
The Men’s EHF Cup Group Phase continues after three weeks. With two rounds to go, various teams might book their tickets to the quarter-finals this weekend.
Magdeburg are the only team to have already secured a quarter-final spot - at least.
If the German side, who are hosting the Ottostadt Magdeburg EHF Cup Finals 2018 on 19-20 May, qualify directly for the finals tournament, only three quarter-final pairings will be played and the worst second-ranked team will not advance from the group phase.
TATRAN Presov (SVK) vs Bjerringbro-Silkeborg (DEN)
With just one point from four games, hosts Presov cannot get to the quarter-finals anymore. However, their opponents on Saturday, Bjerringbro-Silkeborg, will need a win to keep their quarter-final dreams alive.
The Danish side have four points and, even with a win against Presov, will likely need a point or two at home against SC Magdeburg on the last match day.
“We have to win. It is as simple as that,” Silkeborg goalkeeper Aljosa Rezar is quoted on the club’s website. “If we want to play more in Europe this season, we have to win. It will be tough, but we know the conditions.”
SC Magdeburg (GER) vs SKA Minsk (BLR)
Before the last two rounds, Magdeburg are the only team to be absolutely sure of staying in the competition.
As this year’s hosts, Magdeburg will proceed directly to the finals tournament if they win the group or become one of the three best second-ranked teams.
Magdeburg will only play in the quarter-finals if they lose both remaining group matches and become the worst second-ranked team - but that seems a highly unlikely scenario for the German side, which won all four group matches so far.
If Bjerringbro do not win at Presov on Saturday, or Magdeburg get at least one point against Minsk on Sunday, the German side have formally become the group winners.
The situation is much more critical for the visitors. Ranked third with three points, Minsk must win to stand any chance of advancing to the quarter-finals.
Lugi HF (SWE) vs Helvetia Anaitasuna (ESP)
Only honour is at stake for both teams, who cannot advance to the quarter-finals anymore. Lugi will try to get their first points of the group phase, while Anaitasuna want to avoid finishing last in the group.
Saint-Raphael Var Handball (FRA) vs Füchse Berlin (GER)
This is the absolute top game of the group. Saint-Raphael are on top with the maximum of eight points, followed by Füchse on six. The French side won in Berlin 26:21 in the opening round and only need a draw to be sure of the quarter-finals.
However, the final decision will be postponed if Füchse win on Saturday.
As hosts Magdeburg will likely advance to the finals tournament directly, only three quarter-finals will be played and the poorest second-placed team will be out. In that case, even eight points might not be enough to proceed.
RD Koper (SLO) vs Cocks (FIN)
Koper, without suspended head coach Veselin Vujovic, can no longer reach the quarter-finals. The Slovenian team are four points behind second-ranked Nexe but have lost both direct duels against the Croatian side.
Cocks are also out, and the Finnish side are still chasing their first group-phase point in two years.
RK Nexe (CRO) vs Frisch Auf Göppingen (GER)
Nexe are guaranteed to finish in the top two of the group but the Croatian side can still not feel sure about qualifying for the quarter-finals as they could still end up as the worst second-ranked team from the group phase.
But a win at home on Monday would bring Nexe very close to a quarter-final berth. After losing 30:27 to Göppingen in their first meeting, a win of at least four goals would even send them top of the group.
Things are more straightforward for Frisch Auf Göppingen: with a draw, the back-to-back EHF Cup champions from Germany will lock up the No. 1 spot and earn a guaranteed place in the quarter-finals.
Wacker Thun (SUI) vs KS Azoty-Pulawy SA (POL)
Both EHF Cup Group Phase debutants are on two points after their first four matches, and the winner in the Sporthalle Lachen in Thun on Saturday may still have a rather theoretical chance to reach the quarter-final.
Second-place Fraikin BM. Granollers are three points ahead and, moreover, finishing second on six points might not be enough for the quarter-finals.
Thun are looking for revenge after they lost 31:29 in Poland in the opening round.
Fraikin BM. Granollers (ESP) vs Chambéry Savoie Mont Blanc Handball (FRA)
Leading the group with seven points, Chambéry can clinch top spot in the group with a win or a draw in Spain on Sunday.
Currently on five points, Granollers have a very good chance to finish second, even if they lose. But the Spanish side will want to avoid that as it is questionable if seven points in the end will be enough to be among the three best second-ranked teams.
If Granollers win, the ultimate decision in the group will be postponed until the very last round.
TEXT: Peter Bruun / ew
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