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EHF Champions League

Action-packed weekend ahead as knockout phase begins

Sergey Nikolaev / Adrian Costeiu

The competition heats up for the 16 teams in the DELO EHF Champions League as the knockout phase throws off this weekend, with seven mouth-watering clashes featuring all the top teams in Europe.

The Match of the Week heads to Ramnicu Valcea, where hosts SCM have both their pride and their reputation to defend against domestic arch-rivals CSM Bucuresti. The sides have forged a rivalry over the past five years and will be facing off for the first time in European cup competitions after a plethora of exciting clashes on a domestic level, with Bucuresti, the only Romanian winners of the DELO EHF Champions League, starting as slight favourites.

Group B winners Györ will be looking to extend their unbeaten run, which features 44 wins and seven draws, against Bietigheim, while Norwegian side Vipers Kristiansand host Odense in an all-Scandinavian clash.

Russian sides Rostov-Don and CSKA are seen as strong favourites against HC Podravka Vegeta and RK Krim Mercator, respectively. However, both Balkan teams are looking for a good result in the first-leg matches at home.

Team Esbjerg hope to fight hard against Brest Bretagne Handball, who are heavily relying on the competition’s top scorer, Ana Gros, in attack. Meanwhile, an old rivalry will be renewed in Podgorica, where Buducnost will meet FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria.

MOTW: SCM Ramnicu Valcea (ROU) vs CSM Bucuresti (ROU)
Saturday 6 March, 16:00 CET, live on EHFTV

  • two weeks ago, a depleted CSM side, with nine players missing, took an impressive and gritty 27:22 win in the domestic league against SCM Ramnicu Valcea
  • a former Valcea player, left back Cristina Neagu, is CSM’s top scorer and sits second in the DELO EHF Champions League 2020/21, with 76 goals in nine games
  • Valcea have only won three of the last 20 games between the two sides, but snatched the Romanian Cup and Supercup last September, while also winning the league title two seasons ago
  • last season, Valcea progressed to the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time since the 2012/13 season, while CSM Bucuresti secured three DELO EHF FINAL4 berths in the last five seasons
  • CSM coach Adrian Vasile will be back after missing the domestic league game two weeks ago following a positive test for Covid-19

RK Krim Mercator (SLO) vs CSKA (RUS)
Saturday 6 March, 16:00 CET, live on EHFTV

  • the teams have never faced each other in European club competitions
  • CSKA, who are playing their debut season in the continental top flight, were runners-up in group B with 23 points
  • the Russian side won 11 games in the group — more than any other team
  • Krim finished seventh in group A, with seven points, however, they did well against group winners Rostov-Don, beating them at home (28:27) and splitting the points in Russia (23:23)
  • CSKA’s captain Daria Dmitrieva, who missed several weeks due to an injury, is recovering, but her participation in the match against Krim is uncertain

HC Podravka Vegeta (CRO) vs Rostov-Don (RUS)
Saturday 6 March, 18:00 CET, live on EHFTV

  • Rostov topped group A with 21 points, while Podravka finished bottom of group B with four points
  • the Croatian side opened the group stage with a 29:26 win against Buducnost and later earned a technical 10:0 result against Valcea. They lost all 12 of the remaining matches
  • with their emblematic right back Anna Vyakhireva back after an injury, Rostov won their seventh straight Russian Cup on Wednesday, beating Lada Togliatti 25:16 in the final
  • Podravka and Rostov only met once before — in the Cup Winners’ Cup Last 16 in 2013/14, they exchanged home wins (24:19, 30:28), but the Russian side went through
  • after Podravka’s head coach Zlatko Saracevic passed away on 21 February, his assistant Antonio Pranjic took over and is preparing the team for the matches with Rostov

SG BBM Bietigheim (GER) vs Györi Audi ETO KC (HUN)
Sunday 7 March, 14:00 CET, live on EHFTV

  • Györ have won more games this season – 10 – than Bietigheim in their entire history in the DELO EHF Champions League – seven from 38 games
  • the Hungarian side is on an unprecedented 51-game unbeaten streak in the competition, dating to January 2018
  • Györ have the most efficient attack in the competition, having scored 32.6 goals on average per game, while Bietigheim have the second most porous defence, conceding at an average rate of 30.5 goals per game
  • this will be the first meeting ever between the two sides in the premium European competition

Team Esbjerg (DEN) vs Brest Bretagne Handball (FRA)
Sunday 7 March, 16:00 CET, live on EHFTV

  • both teams are playing their fourth DELO EHF Champions League season. Last year, both reached their maiden quarter-final before the competition was cancelled
  • this season, Brest were ranked third in group B with 17 points, while Esbjerg finished sixth in group A with 12 points
  • the French side drew in five group matches — more than any other team in the competition
  • Esbjerg improved after the new year, claiming seven points in five matches in 2021
  • Brest’s Ana Gros is the leading scorer of the season, with a tally of 87 goals
  • this will be the first encounter between the sides in European club competitions

Buducnost (MNE) vs FTC-Rail Cargo Hungaria (HUN)
Sunday 7 March, 16:00 CET, live on EHFTV

  • this is an old rivalry, as the teams have faced each other 11 times in European club competitions, with FTC winning six matches, Buducnost four and one game ending in a draw
  • most recently, the teams met in the main round of the DELO EHF Champions League in 2017/18, when the Hungarian team won twice — 34:26 at home and 24:23 away
  • this season, the Hungarian side claimed eight points at home and just as many away
  • with 16 points, FTC finished fourth in group A, while Buducnost earned 12 points in group B to take fifth position
  • FTC coach Gabor Elek, who also works with the Hungarian national team, nominated as many as 11 players from his club for participation in the upcoming Olympic qualification tournament

Vipers Kristiansand (NOR) vs Odense Håndbold (DEN)
Sunday 7 March, 18:00 CET, live on EHFTV

  • Vipers started the season with a seven-game unbeaten streak and finished the group in fifth place
  • the Norwegian side won only one game from their last five in the group, while Odense equalled their worst-ever losing run in the DELO EHF Champions League — three games in a row
  • influential line player Heidi Loke and top scorer Nora Mork will be out for the game against Odense due to injuries
  • in their only previous season in the premium European competition, 2018/19, Odense reached the quarter-finals, where they were eliminated by Györ
  • this will be the first-ever meeting between the two sides in European competitions, but Vipers have won only two of their eight games against Danish opponents, with both of them at home

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