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22.09.2010, 10:20◄ last page     

Preview on Match Day 1 of the VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League.

Highlighters and debutants

Stand up for the 18th season of the VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League! 148 matches are ahead of handball fans before the winner will be known. And the first twelve games will be carried out from Wednesday to Sunday on Match Day 1 in the four groups – already including real highlights!

Group A

THW Kiel (GER) – Chambery Savoie (FRA)

Unfortunately for Kiel Daniel Narcisse is injured; otherwise he could have met his old team mates from Chambery. But his replacement is well-known in the VELUX EHF Champions League: French international Jerome Fernandez will play his first international match for the Germans. The title holders from northern Germany are favourites on home soil, as they won almost every game there last season. Chambery will have to perform up to 100 percent to stand the speedy game play of THW and the loud audience in the sold-out arena.

FC Barcelona-Borges (ESP) – Rhein Neckar Löwen (GER)

On both sides changes in the squad have occurred – but on home soil Barcelona can be seen as favourite in this Spanish-German clash. Löwen secured their qualification last minute by winning the wild card tournament, and have a current severe injury in their team. German international Michael Müller has to be replaced due to a rupture of the crucial ligament. Except for one defeat against Kiel, Barcelona won all of their home games in the last season.

Vive Targi Kielce (POL) – RK Pivovarna Lasko Celje (SLO)

Both clubs made additions to their squads by signing internationally experienced players, and both clubs aim high. Kielce will be able to count on the great atmosphere in their home arena, Celje can rely on the clever tactics of Coach Noka Serdarusic and on fantastic saves of newly signed goalkeeper Mirko Allilovic. For both clubs this opening game is highly decisive for their development in this "hammer group", so a tight fight can be expected.

Group B

IK Sävehof (SWE) – KIF Kolding (DEN)

The battle of the north will see a highly technical game. The Scandinavian duel might give the guest team a little advantage: due to more international experience and new players like Lars Christiansen Kolding seems to have a fairly good chance for two points. But Swedish west coasters Sävehof – the only club with both a men’s and a women’s team in the EHF Champions League – will not give away two points as a present, but instead prove to their spectators that they belong among the 24 best teams of Europe.

Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA) – HSV Hamburg (GER)

The great opening for the new arena in Montpellier: 9,000 spectators at the first official match are expected to turn the sports venue of the French champion into their new fortress. But their first opponent is one of the strongest teams in Europe: the two times CL semi-finalist from Hamburg. Montpellier’s key players Nikola Karabatic and Vid Kavticnik know the Germans very well from their time in Kiel. The duel will for sure be top class as in involves some of the best handball players of the World, including several World, Olympics and European Champions.

No doubt this duel was selected as the very first "Match of the Week" on www.ehfTV.com where it will be shown on a free of charge live stream with English commentary.

Tatran Presov (SVK) – MKB Veszprem (HUN)

Both teams know each other better than one might expect, as Presov plays as a guest team in the Hungarian league, too. In the last season the Slovaks ranked third behind Veszprem and Szeged. Optimism is big in Presov as they changed their playing hall into a new, bigger venue. As Presov is situated not very far from the Hungarian border a lot of away fans are expected to visit and sell out the City Hall. By just looking at the individual class Veszprem has the better team, but has to be aware of Presov’s ambitious comeback in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

Group C

Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) – AaB Aalborg (DEN)

Tall Russians against fast Danes, that could be the chorus of the starting duel in Group C. The Russians of course would like to qualify for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 again. For the Danish Champion it’s the first ever match in the European elite tournament in their club history. In their own country the Russians are in to be seen as favourites, especially as they are in a good shape after the long preparation trip across Europe with matches against various top teams this summer. For Aalborg it will be decisive to stop the Russian back court players.

Pick Szeged (HUN) – Kadetten Schaffhausen (SUI)

The completely new formed team from Szeged are having the goal to reach the Last 16 of the VELUX EHF Champions League, but also Kadetten have that goal. The winner of this opening match might make an important step towards his objective. Szeged have lost some key players and nobody really knows where on international turf they stand. Kadetten won the Swiss Super Cup and the hopes are high to gain an away victory. Motivation is extra high for the Swiss as they missed to qualify for the CL last season and this year finally made it.

Dinamo Minsk (BLR) – Cuatro Rayas Valladolid (ESP)

Like Aalborg, Minsk will play their first ever match in the VELUX EHF Champions League. The Belarusian Champion that won the qualification tournament in Porto wants to gain more international experience with games against top clubs. Right in the first match they will meet top class from Spain: although Valladolid has lost key player Entrerrios to Liga ASOBAL opponent Barcelona, they can be seen as clear favourite in this game.

Group D

St. Petersburg HC (RUS) – HC Bosna Sarajevo (BIH)

The very first throw-off whistle of this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League will be blown in St. Petersburg for the third newcomer. The team of Coach Dmitry Torgovanov is absolutely focussed on their match against Bosna Sarajevo. Looking at individual class both teams seem to be on the same level, but as the Russian are known to be extremely hard to beat on home soil they might have a little advantage in the battle for two points.

Renovalia Ciudad Real (ESP) – SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)

Both teams met in two Cup Winner’s Cup Finals in the 1990’s and each team managed to raise the trophy once. Since then many things have changed. Ciudad Real can still be seen as a absolute top team despite losing important players like Petar Metlicic or Jerome Fernandez. Because by signing shooter Kiril Lazarow they now have a new player that is able to decide a match on his own. After missing the CL last season Flensburg this year is planning to reach the Quarterfinals. Together with Zagreb these two teams make the impression to be the strongest teams of Group D. Due to their squad – a "World Selection" – Ciudad Real will play the role of the top favourite – not only in this encounter but in the whole group.

HCM Constanta (ROU) – HC Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO)

Welcome back home! After Constanta had to play their last season’s home matches in Buzau, this year they could return to their usual hall at the Black Sea. The new Constanta coaches Alexandu Buligan and Jovica Cvetkovic want to take the home soil boost and transform it into a brilliant start against Zagreb. On the other side, the Croatians are currently building a new team with more young Croatian players. And they still have the experienced top back player Ivano Balic, who would be able to make the difference in Constanta.

TEXT: Björn Pazen

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