Breaking down the European League group phase
We are just days away from the launch of the group phase in European handball’s exciting new club competition – the EHF European League Men.
As the 24 contenders prepare to embark on a 10-round journey in search of famous victories and a place in the knockout rounds, here is a look at each of the four groups individually.
Abanca Ademar Leon, Orlen Wisla Plock, Chekhovskie medvedi, Fenix Toulouse Handball, Fivers, HC Metalurg
This is perhaps the most open group of the lot. Four of the six teams have experienced EHF Champions League handball in recent years, but none have set the world alight.
Plock managed to emerge from groups C and D last season, of comparable quality to this group, and will go in as slight favourites ahead of European regulars Leon.
Fenix Toulouse will be the group’s wildcards. Although they lack experience at this level, they boast plenty of quality and flair. Their entertaining, if unsuccessful, start to the French league can give us a hint as to what we can expect.
While Austrian side Fivers will be the underdogs, their qualification win over Benfica shows they will not be group A’s whipping boys.
USAM Nimes Gard, C.S. Dinamo Bucuresti, TATRAN Presov, Füchse Berlin, Sporting CP, IFK Kristianstad
In my opinion, the group of death. Alongside the outside contenders from French and German leagues, we have four clubs which believe they belong in the top flight.
Despite their shaky start to the season, it would seem churlish not to list Füchse among the favourites, having been among the top three in the EHF Cup five times in the past six seasons.
Dinamo Bucuresti have the means to be this season’s dark horse and will certainly be among the favourites to finish in the top four here.
But that is the problem with this group, every team will feel they have a serious chance of progressing to the Last 16. Expect a nail-biting conclusion to this group.
SC Magdeburg, Alingsas HK, Besiktas Aygaz, Montpellier HB, RK Nexe, HC CSKA
I fully expect Magdeburg and Montpellier to battle it out for top spot in group C and are likely to meet again at the final tournament, behind this pair it is anyone’s guess.
Nexe’s recent form and pedigree at this level should see them safely through but not without a few bumps along the road.
The remaining three teams will all fancy their chances of beating each other on home court, the defining factor may be who can pull off an away victory or snatch a point or two against the big dogs.
Grundfos Tatabanya KC, Kadetten Schaffhausen, HC Eurofarm Pelister, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, GOG,
RK Trimo Trebnje
This group runs a close second behind B in terms of potential drama. On paper, Rhein-Neckar Löwen are favourites to top the group as they hunt their first European title since 2013, but you can never be sure what Löwen will deliver in Europe.
Perennial EHF Cup also-rans Tatabanya will see the new European League as an opportunity to step out of the shadow of more illustrious Hungarian clubs, but nothing is guaranteed against GOG, Schaffhausen and Pelister, all of whom have EHF Champions League experience and ambitions of their own.
Trimo Trebnje will be the group’s underdogs but having battled through two qualifying rounds to get here, Uros Zorman’s men are unlikely to simply roll over.