A fitting farewell to the group phase
It is all over for the group phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League. But before we move on to the battles in the Last 16, we look at the last round of group matches.
For a while it seemed like no Scandinavian team would go further in the competition. There was a battle until the end for the top spot in Group A. And who ended up as the top scorer of the group phase?
Here are this week’s talking points.
Kristianstad have done it
Three teams were in the race for the final ticket to the Last 16 in Group A until the very last round: Orlen Wisla Plock, HC PPD Zagreb and IFK Kristianstad were all equal on points.
In the end the Swedish champions came out on top after beating Zagreb in Croatia 27:24, while the Polish side did well to get a point against HC Vardar though that was not enough.
Kristianstad have finished the group on eight points, one ahead of Plock and two ahead of Zagreb.
It is the first time that the Swedish champions are proceeding to the next phase after missing out on the Last 16 in the previous two seasons. They will now meet SG Flensburg-Handewitt.
If that’s not a reason to celebrate, we don’t know what is…
Nantes handed top spot to Vardar
Also in Group A, the fight for the No. 1 position - and qualification for the quarter-finals - went to the wire as HBC Nantes and HC Vardar were both in the running until the end.
However, while they needed a win in their final match to keep their hopes alive, Nantes had a draw (30:30) with Rhein-Neckar Löwen on Saturday, handing the top spot to their Macedonian rivals.
Vardar went without any pressure into their game against Orlen Wisla Plock and also ended up with a draw (31:31), earning them the second quarter-final ticket after Paris Saint-Germain Handball had already become winners of Group B earlier.
The incredible local hero in Skjern
And speaking of a celebration, what a performance by Skjern Handbold as the Danish side secured their Last 16 ticket after turning the tables around in the play-off against HC Motor Zaporozhye.
Skjern were trailing by two goals after their first encounter but took a seven-goal victory (33:26) in the second leg at home. Their first ever win against Motor sent the Danish team through for the first time in 16 years.
A great team effort, of course, but the incredible performance by Skjern goalkeeper Tibor Ivanisevic stood out. He saved no less than seven penalties and made sure another one didn’t go in either. No wonder he was described by Skjern veteran Bjarte Myrhol as a local hero after the game.
Have you ever seen anything like this? We sure haven't. Tibor Ivanisevic saved a total of seven penalty shots for @SkjernHaandbold in the #veluxehfcl #motw, and made sure another hit the crossbar as well pic.twitter.com/PpqRzeaE9w— EHF Champions League (@ehfcl) 4 March 2018
Four in a row for Montpellier
In the other play-off from Groups C and D, Montpellier HB came out on top against Abanca Ademar Leon. The French side won the second match at home 20:19, and their duel by a five-goal margin in total.
It was the 200th European tie for Leon but Montpellier did not care at all about that milestone. They are through to the Last 16 for the fourth season in a row.
Montpellier will now be up against Catalan giants FC Barcelona Lassa.
Nobody outscored Uwe Gensheimer
An injury forced Uwe Gensheimer to sit out PSG’s final group match against THW Kiel on Sunday. But even without adding to his tally of 80 goals, the left wing became the top scorer of the group phase. His former teammate Andy Schmid from Rhein-Neckar Löwen scored 75 times and finished runner-up in this ranking.
Meanwhile, Telekom Veszprém have two players among the top five scorers - Mate Lekai with 72 and Momir Ilic with 66. The top five is being completed by Swedish international Markus Olsson with 71 goals for Skjern Handbold.
Goodbye group phase, hello Last 16
With the group phase done and dusted, let’s take a look at the duels in the Last 16. Below are the six matches which are going to decide who will join HC Vardar and Paris SG in the quarter-finals.
The first legs will be played between 21 and 25 March, the second legs between 28 March and 1 April.
- FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs Montpellier HB (FRA)
- Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN) vs Skjern Handbold (DEN)
- HBC Nantes (FRA) vs HC Meshkov Brest (BLR)
- SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE)
- Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL)
- THW Kiel (GER) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)