Zagreb and Plock looking for first wins
Midweek VELUX EHF Champions League action offers an enticing tripleheader, with clashes in Group A in focus as some of Europe’s big names take centre stage.
Orlen Wisla Plock, who have so far managed just one draw in four games, entertain MOL-Pick Szeged hoping they can register their first win against more heralded opposition.
HC PPD Zagreb face an even more difficult task at German champions Rhein-Neckar Löwen, while Swiss outfit Kadetten Schaffhausen are up against Group C leaders Skjern Handbold.
- Plock desperately need a win to keep Last 16 hopes alive
- Zagreb have taken only two points from opening four games
- Skjern aiming to stay in Group C’s driving seat
Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)
Wednesday 11 October, 18:00 local time, live on ehfTV
Wisla Plock have taken a solitary point from their opening four games and if their hitherto performances are anything to go by, celebrating their first win of this season’s VELUX EHF Champions League campaign will be a tall order against Szeged.
The Polish side are second from bottom in their section, having conceded a whopping 122 goals, less only than basement team IFK Kristianstad. It means their porous defence will have to shore up the leaks if they are to come away with anything against their Hungarian rivals.
Having lost their opening three games, Wisla scraped a 28:28 draw at Zagreb last weekend after trailing 18:16 at half-time, with Stipe Mandalinic (10) and Mario Vuglac (7) netting 17 goals between them for the Croatian champions.
The tally underlined the chinks in Wisla’s armour, whereas Szeged gave a good account of themselves in a creditable 26:26 home draw against reigning champions HC Vardar.
With seven points from their opening four games, the Hungarian outfit have shown that they will once again be a safe bet to advance into the knockout rounds of Europe’s premier club competition.
Their balanced outfit produced 10 scorers against Vardar and an ironclad defence did enough to deny the Macedonian giants a win, hence they will confidently head to Poland as favourites.
Szeged celebrated emphatic wins in both Champions League games against Wisla so far, thrashing them 26:16 and 26:17 in the 2008/09 group phase.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Thursday 12 October, 21:00 local time, live on ehfTV
These two teams will renew their fascinating rivalry after treating handball fans around Europe to some fascinating encounters down the years, most recently in last season’s group phase when they beat each other at home.
A shock elimination in the 2015/16 season, when Zagreb knocked them out in the Last 16, will still be fresh in Rhein-Neckar Lowen’s minds against a team they always found awkward to play against.
Having won 24:23 in the Croatian capital, the German giants were stunned in the return leg on home court as Zagreb hit back with a 31:29 victory which propelled them into the quarter-finals.
Last term, Rhein-Neckar Löwen scraped a 25:24 win at home in the group phase before they were blown away 25:21 in the return fixture, which underlined Zagreb’s ability to upset Europe’s heavyweights.
Such an outcome seems unlikely this time, though, as Zagreb have so far struggled to make an impact while Rhein-Neckar Löwen are well placed with two wins and two draws from their opening four games.
Zagreb, in contrast, have managed only two draws and as many defeats, which means they face a mountain to climb if they are to advance to the knockout stages from a tough section.
They will bank their hopes of upsetting Rhein-Neckar Löwen again on the fine form of prolific back Stipe Mandalinic, who rifled in a game-high 10 goals in last weekend’s 28:28 home draw with Plock.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen showed devastating form in the 35:22 away rout of IFK Kristianstad, with Andy Schmid and new signing Jerry Tollbring scoring seven goals each in Sweden.
Kadetten Schaffhausen (SUI) vs Skjern Handbold (DEN)
Thursday 12 October, 20:15 local time, live on ehfTV
An intriguing clash between two evenly balanced teams in one of the two lower sections, with both outfits aiming to finish in the group’s top two and advance to the play-off.
Skjern’s last campaign at this level saw them lose in the play-off round in 2015/16, while Kadetten have been perennial also-rans in seven of the last eight seasons, failing to advance beyond the group phase in their last four top flight outings.
The reinvigorated Skjern side have made an excellent start to the campaign, winning three of their opening four games, most recently an impressive 33:25 whitewash of Abanca Ademar Leon.
The Danish side’s top goal getters, Anders Eggert and Markus Olsson, scored eight goals each in the victory over the Spanish side and will be brimming with confidence ahead of the visit to Switzerland, where Kadetten can be a tough nut to crack.
The Swiss side beat Elverum Handball and Gorenje Velenje on home court while suffering identical 29:28 defeats at Ademar Leon and Dinamo Bucuresti, hence the upcoming encounter with Skjern is as unpredictable as they come.
Either way, this battle for Group C supremacy promises to be a real treat.Author: Zoran Milosavljevic / cor