|03.04.2017, 14:27||◄ last page|
TALKING POINTS: Now Kielce's reign has ended abruptly, eight quarter-finalists are eager to take the crown from the Polish side. The fight for a place in the VELUX EHF FINAL4 starts right here.
Things we know ahead of the quarter-finals
The quarter-final matchups have been set as we await THW Kiel vs FC Barcelona Lassa, SG Flensburg-Handewitt vs HC Varda, MOL-Pick Szeged vs Paris Saint-Germain, and Telekom Veszprém vs Montpellier HB to tell us who will be the VELUX EHF FINAL4 participants.
But first, let us reflect on the past week, full of exciting action from the Last 16 return fixtures.
The throne is vacant again
Nobody said it was easy, but Kielce’s title defence dream is well and truly over.
Kielce’s rollercoaster form this season cost them dearly and it is back to the drawing board for Talant Dujshebaev and his lads.
Brave Montpellier won both Last 16 duels against the Polish side (33:28 and 28:26) to reach the quarter-finals for the first time since the 2010/11 season Next up is the other finalist from last year, Telekom Veszprém.
Kielce’s elimination means that, since the introduction of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 six years ago, no team has successfully defended their tile from the previous season. That curse will live on in the current season.
Kielce are only the second defending champions to be eliminated as early as in the Last 16, after 2013 winners HSV Hamburg also went out before the quarter-finals three years ago.
Difficult task for milestone Germans
What a proud moment for THW Kiel and SG Flensburg.
Not only do they remain the sole protectors of German handball pride, they also are doing so completing their VELUX EHF Champions League milestones.
For the sixth time since the introduction of the FINAL4 in 2010, two German teams will be part of the quarter-finals.
THW Kiel completed a magnificent comeback win over Bundesliga rivals Rhein-Neckar Löwen (50:49 on aggregate) to celebrate their 18th quarter-final appearance in their 20th Champions League season.
Flensburg have also been doing some champagne popping following their 28:26 victory against Meshkov on Sunday, which earned them their 10th quarter-final berth.
However, the quarter-final draw has not been kind to the Germans with the two top-placed sides from the Group Phase as their next opponents: THW Kiel will host old rivals Barcelona Lassa, while Flensburg will welcome Vardar.
The return fixtures will also pose peril for the Germans as they will be played in the notorious Palau Blaugrana and Jane Sandanski, respectively.
Still, history should give the German sides some confidence: Flensburg also faced Vardar in the quarter-finals when the German team went on to win their sole title in 2014. And Kiel will remind the last time they met Barcelona, in the 2015/16 quarter-finals, beating the Spanish side 59:57 on aggregate.
Hungarian dream lives on
Hungary, alongside France and Germany, also have two teams in the quarter-finals. And as they don’t play each other, the Hungarian dream of having two teams at the FINAL4 remains alive.
Szeged played a thunderous second half against BSV, conceding just eight goals, to clinch a 33:24 win and comfortably advance to the quarter-finals for the fourth time.
Slovenian playmaker Sebastian Skube was BSV best shooter with six goals, but he was topped by his brother, Staš Skube, who scored seven for Szeged.
Meanwhile, as Momir Ilic, Cristian Ugalde and Gasper Marguc all scored five goals, Veszprém reached their sixth straight quarter-final with a 52:41 aggregate win against sorry Zagreb.
Zagreb’s 19 goals in the return fixture in Veszprém were their lowest score in any match this VELUX EHF Champions League season.
TEXT: Nemanja Savic / ew