|23.03.2011, 16:30||◄ last page|
Preview on the first leg matches of the Last 16 in the VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League.
Back to square one
After the Group Phase, all remaining 16 teams in the VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League start from square one again. With the first leg matches of the Last 16, the knock-out stage begins. Several players coming back to play in their home countries will provide the extra spice in these encounters between the best club teams of the world.
HSV Hamburg (GER) vs. Cuatro Rayas Valladolid (ESP)
It will be a warm welcome for Tomas Svensson. From 2002 to 2005 the Swedish legend played in Hamburg. Aged 43 he still is one of the key players for Valladolid. "It is great to meet my old mates again," Svensson said before the game in Germany and continued: "I really enjoyed the draw for the Last 16."
His team will miss French World Champion Guillaume Joli, but on the left wing position coach Juan Carlos Pastor can count on the Norwegian Harvard Tvedten. "We must play perfectly if we want to have a chance in Hamburg," is the opinion in Valladolid.
On the other side, Hamburg is full of confidence. They are still number one in Germany, four points ahead of Kiel – and just took the high hurdle against Füchse Berlin with a 35:22 victory last Sunday.
It is doubtful whether HSV captain Guillaume Gille will play after some problems with his Achilles tendon. His brother Bertrand has fully recovered from injury and will be on court.
"German-Spanish duels are always tension-filled, so we have to be aware of Valladolid. But we hope to continue to the quarterfinals," HSV club board member Dierk Schmäschke said after the draw.
This game will be broadcast live on ehfTV.com.
Kadetten Schaffhausen (SUI) vs. Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA)
Despite six consecutive victories in the VELUX EHF Champions League, including those in Hamburg and against Veszprem, Montpellier lack success in domestic competitions. In the French league they rank below their old rivals from Chambery, and they are out of the French Cup after losing in the Quarterfinals against Chambery on home ground.
But now the team of Patrice Canayer is willing to show their strength again. Good news for the coach: After one month of injury break, World Champion Michael Guigou is back on court.
Aymen Hammed is still injured and missed the game in Dijon last weekend. "We hope that he can play," Canayer said. Another key player with a question mark for the game in Switzerland is William Accambray, who was injured in a test match of the French national team against Serbia.
But despite that, Canayer estimates his team to be favourites, but warns: "Kadetten have a very strong goalkeeper in Gustavsson, and we have to be aware of players like Patrail or Filip."
On the other side the Swiss champions do not have any injury problems, but coach Petr Hrahovec is still careful: "Montpellier are the clear favourites in those Last 16 matches. It is our aim to produce a good base in the home match."
Pick Szeged (HUN) vs. SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
After having qualified for the Last 16, the entire town of Szeged is looking forward to the clash with an unknown enemy: "We have never played against Flensburg before, so it is high time meeting them," coach László Skaliczki said.
The coach then continued: "I am satisfied with the result of the draw. Rhein-Neckar Löwen and Veszprém are fantastic, internationally famous teams, but Flensburg is also very strong. I think that the Danish, Swedish and German players constitute a great team with the infamous team spirit. We will need our crowd to create our fantastic home match atmosphere if we want to stand a chance."
Pick captain Dávid Katzirz recovered from a leg injury right in time to be back against Flensburg. His opinion: "We are not the favourites, but we will fight. I played against Flensburg several times when I was in the Bundesliga, but the team has changed since then. The Danish players have decisive roles, as we could see during the world championship."
Szeged will have to miss Dusan Beocanin and Norbert Nagy – but the Hungarians hope that Tomas Stranovsky can comeback after a rib injury. So managing director Árpád Bella is quite optimistic: "Flensburg are a strong team, as they won against Ciudad Real. We respect their strength and achievements, but we would like to win the first match in Szeged, and then anything may happen."
The Germans have had squad problems since weeks, as key players like Oscar Carlen (rupture of crucial ligament), Thomas Mogensen and Michael V. Knudsen are injured.
Despite that Flensburg took a close 28:27 away victory on Tuesday evening at Großwallstadt after losing to Kiel clearly on Sunday. "Szeged was our favoured opponent," coach Ljubomir Vranjes said.
This game will be broadcast live on ehfTV.com.
KIF Kolding (DEN) vs. THW Kiel (GER)
The recovering process took seven months, but now „Air France" is back on track: after a rupture of the crucial ligament in the preparation to the season, Frenchmen Daniel Narcisse had his comeback for THW last Sunday when the "Zebras" gained the highest ever victory in the Northern duel against Flensburg (38:26).
Coach Alfred Gislasson hopes for another comeback in Kolding, as Swedish international Kim Andersson has recovered from a broken middle hand bone.
A big amount of THW fans are expected follow their club to the closest possible opponent in the VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League Last 16.
"Kolding is hard to defeat, but as we want to qualify for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 again, we simply will have to beat them," coach Alfred Gislason said after the draw.
Last season Kiel tied in Kolding. The Danes are hoping for a sold-out hall – and for the sensation as they nearly do not have any squad problems. Only former THW player Lars Krogh Jeppesen is injured.
Coach Ingemar Linnell expects a match on the highest level: "To face the reigning champions of the VELUX EHF Men’s Champions League is a very big challenge, but it is also a big chance to give the fans in Kolding a big match. We have high hopes and a big interest to produce a fantastic match. In the past we played very well against European top teams, and last season Kiel was actually lucky to gain one point from the match in the TRE-FOR Arena. To be honest I think that most of handball fans in Europe would think I am stupid when I say that we have a chance to beat Kiel in the Last 16, but if we do not produce a fantastic match in Kolding we have no chance, 100 percent."
Chambery Savoie HB (FRA) vs. Renovalia Ciudad Real (ESP)
The French league leaders against the Spanish champion – even as one group winner and one team ranked fourth meet, those two matches are estimated to be very close prior to the start of the Last 16.
Ciudad Real manager Luis Miguel Lopez said: "It will be a very tense game, we are prepared to face a great team, the leaders of the French league with great players. We also know they have great fans. So it will be a difficult match, but we believe in our chances of getting a good result for the second leg."
As the Spaniards arrive with the complete squad in France, Chambery will have to miss a key player until the end of the season: Bertrand Roine is out after an Achilles tendon rupture, that occurred during the World Championship in Sweden.
Roine underwent surgery last week. But Chambery is full of confidence after beating Montpellier in the French Cup and qualifying last second for the Last 16.
"It is a great honour for us to be among the 16 strongest teams of the world, but I think we also deserved this qualification," coach Philippe Gardent said and continued: "On home ground we want to be close to Ciudad Real – and then we will have to see what happens."
This game will be broadcast live on ehfTV.com as our featured "Match of the Week", including English commentary with Tom O'Brannagain.
F.C. Barcelona Borges (ESP) vs. MKB Veszprém KC (HUN)
Not only is this the top match of the Last 16, it is also the revenge for last season’s Quarterfinals. In 2010 Barcelona managed to win both matches and by that qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. This is once more the final destination for both clubs – but only one will be able to.
Veszprem gained a big portion of confidence last weekend by taming their biggest national opponents Pick Szeged with a clear 40:23.
Coach Lajos Mocsai estimated the chance to beat Barcelona in the addition of both matches as 50:50 and stated: "We will work hard this week, especially on the physical fitness and on our defence. We have to be aware of shots even from ten to twelve meters."
The matches will be very special for Laszlo Nagy, the first non-Catalan to become captain of Barcelona. The Hungarian arrived at Barca from Szeged aged 17 and has since then evolved into a world star.
Like Veszprem in Hungary, Barcelona are clear leaders of the domestic league. With an impressive record of 22 victories in 22 matches they already rank six points ahead of their biggest rivals from Ciudad Real.
"We have to take a clear victory on home ground to have a chance to stand the atmosphere in Veszprem," manager Xavier o’Callaghan said.
Barcelona will lose one of their top stars from the next season on: Iker Romero (30) signed a three year contract at German club Füchse Berlin on Tuesday.
HC Bosna BH Gas (BIH) vs. Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS)
Bosna had hoped for the big guns Ciudad Real or Kiel – but now they have to face the Russian Bears.
For coach Irfan Smajlagic, Chekhov is nearly on the same level as the Spaniards or the Germans: "They are one of the European top teams, as they are more or less the whole Russian national team. Maybe they do not play as attractive as Kiel or Ciudad, but they are definitely able to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 again, like last season."
Smajlagic hopes for great support from the stands to have a small chance to surprise the Russians in the first leg: "Chekhov never waste more energy than necessary – maybe this is our chance, as they might underestimate us. We achieved our major goal by qualifying for the Last 16 – now the pressure is on our opponents."
Captain Petar Kapisoda has played against Chekhov and against Russia several times, and he expects a tough job: "We have to be aware in defence and try to have as many counter attacks as possible. Even as we have reached our season goal by qualifying to the knock-out stage, this does not mean that we will give up now. And in away matches the Russians do not seem to be unbeatable, as they lost in Schaffhausen."
HC Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO) vs. Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)
Both teams hope to reach the Quarterfinals: Zagreb and Löwen already met in the 2008/2009 Main Round – and both matches had no winner: 33:33 and 27:27.
"The atmosphere in the Zagreb Arena is very special, but it is good to know that we have players to stand this pressure due to their international experience," Löwen manager Thorsten Storm said. He estimates the chances to be 50:50: "Our only advantage is to have the return match on home ground."
Their domestic dress rehearsal on Tuesday evening was successful, they beat Füchse Berlin in the Bundesliga 33:32. By that they won back third place in the league, but already eight points behind Hamburg.
In this match goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal reappeared between the posts for the first time after his knee operation six weeks ago.
Another "lion" most probably will return on Sunday: German left handed national player Michael Müller had to be replaced for six month after a rupture of the crucial ligament: "It would be absolutely great for me if I could return in this very special match."
On the other side the Croatians are looking forward to meet a fellow countryman in Ivan Cupic, Croatian wing player of the Löwen.
"We have a chance to go on," manager Ante Antic mentions: "and we expect to be welcomed by a big amount of Croatian handball fans in Germany.
Coach Ivica Obrvan hopes for "a real spectacle in Zagreb" this Sunday already.
This game will be broadcast live on ehfTV.com.
TEXT: Björn Pazen