Five takeaways from the play-offs
The EHF Champions League Men play-offs were wrapped up Thursday night, completing the lineup for the quarter-final, the ultimate battle for EHF FINAL4 tickets.
What do the play-offs tell us about the teams that made it to the quarter-final, or those that failed to do so?
Here are five observations after the play-offs:
1. PSG, Barça and Veszprém are kings in their castle
The four teams that finished first and second in the group phase made it easily through to the quarter-final.
Flensburg didn’t even step on the court against Zagreb, while the other three seemed to fight an unofficial battle for the biggest win.
Barça won that game, beating Elverum by 20 goals in the second leg (39:29). The Spanish side also had the largest aggregate win (+32), ahead of Veszprém (+23) and PSG (+21).
2. Aalborg for the first time
Aalborg become one of the teams to earn the first quarter-final berth in the club’s history. The Danish side edged Porto on the away-goal rule. Had Porto won, it would have been their first appearance in the Champions League quarter-final.
Aalborg’s success has not come as a surprise, though. Henrik Møllgaard and his teammates made already a huge impression in the group phase, where they finished fourth but showed their ability to cause havoc against opponents like Nantes and Veszprém, whom they beat in Hungary.
3. Kielce and the French curse
Just when you thought Kielce had gotten over it, their French curse struck again. For the third time in recent years the Polish side were eliminated in the knockout phase by an opponent from France.
Montpelllier won both confrontations in the Last 16 of the 2016/17 season, and PSG repeated that feat at the same stage the following season.
In 2018/19, however, Kielce turned the tide against PSG in that historic quarter-final, winning the home leg by 10 before losing the return leg by nine.
But things went all wrong again against Nantes, despite a one-goal away win in the first leg. The three-goal home defeat on Wednesday came after Kielce’s disappointing end to the group phase.
Having led group A for several rounds, Kielce ended with defeats against PSG (37:26) and Flensburg (31:28) and dropped to third. What, if...?
4. Meshkov and others welcome back (some) fans
The current season shows what the presence of fans usually does to sport events. If they are not there, the atmosphere is different, to say the least.
Handball has been no exception, but it has been great to see several clubs in the play-offs able to welcome back at least some spectators in their arenas.
The play-off tie between Meshkov Brest and Motor saw both matches played in front of (partly) filled stands.
Barça were among the other teams, who could a limited number of fans attend their game.
5. Left-handed players rule – again
Alex Dujshebaev and Kielce are out of the competition, but the Spanish right back still tops the scorers list with 90 goals.
Dujshebaev is 14 goals ahead of Nantes left wing Valero Rivera, who gets at least two, and maybe four matches to add to his total.
Two clubs have two players each in the top 10: Motor and Brest. Motor have the most productive line player: Viachaslau Bokhan, with 71.
The top 10 includes five left-handed players. Surprising? Not really, the top scorer award in the past two seasons went to Dujshebaev and Kiel’s Niclas Ekberg, respectively.