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21.09.2016, 13:18◄ last page     

GROUP C PREVIEW: Montpellier, the only French side to ever win the Champions League, throw off their campaign against Presov. While Chekhovskie and La Rioja clash once again

Group favourites start at home, and a rematch in Moscow

The road to Cologne starts in Istanbul on Wednesday night, but Group C will throw off on Thursday night in Russia, with a replay of the last season’s Group C opening tie. Saturday will feature a re-match of two Group D contenders from 2015/16 as Metalurg Skopje host Elverum. Concluding match day one, Tatran Presov, who won their qualification group, pay a visit to the biggest favourites of this group, Montpellier.


Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs La Rioja (ESP)
Thursday, 22 September, 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

Things have not been great for the Spanish runners-up since the start of the season. After their main sponsor revealed that they would not be extending their contract after ten years of co-operation, this combined with tough draw at the beginning of Spanish ASOBAL season, has left La Rioja at mid-table.

Two defeats (from three) to Spanish handball giants Barcelona and Ademar Leon leave the Logrono-based side in a tricky spot. Attacking effectivity needs improvement should La Rioja want a better start in VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase.

Jota Gonzalez wants to see some strong team spirit, ideally to match the result from 2015, when La Rioja qualified for the Last 16. Last season they have not been as successful and were knocked out in the elimination round by Motor Zaporozhye. They also have to deal without the 112 goals scored by Cristian Malmagro and Pedro Rodriguez in last season’s group phase; both are no longer part of the squad.

New signings from Hungary, Egyptian Mohamed Sanad and the Spanish International Angel Montoro from Wisla Plock should be available.

The hosts are in different mood, yet not completely happy with how they approached the beginning of their season. Chekhovskie, lost their first match in the Russian Championship but then managed to win three in a row to sit on top of the league.

Vladimir Maximov can count on core of the squad from last year that missed the knockout stages of the competition. After becoming Russian champions for 15th consecutive time, the Bears possess more strength than last year with experience being vital in Europe.

Their head-to-head record is equal. Last year’s encounter in Moscow produced a comeback by La Rioja, but Kirill Kotov scored the decider ninety seconds before the end. The twenty-four-year-old centre back is still in the squad unlike two out of the three top scorers for La Rioja from that night – Malmagro and Stenmalm.

It’s difficult to pick out a favourite as it looks like we will witness a close game, with both teams having the abilities to edge the other.

Metalurg HC (MKD) vs Elverum handball (NOR)
Saturday 24th September, 17:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

One of last season’s surprise package from Norway Elverum were seeded directly into the group phase of the competition for the first time in their history.  Interestingly, on match day one they pay a visit to Skopje, a team they have met last year on their debut amongst the European elite in Group D. Both teams shared one win each at home courts.

Metalurg claimed 22:19 win at home, Bojan Madjovski being top scorer after coming back from behind after half-time. Steffen Stegavik and Luka Mitrovic are no longer in Elverum’s squad; combined with a total of 22 goals against the Macedonian opponent. The Norwegian side grabbed convincing 29:23 win in the return leg at home.  

Being crowned third time Norwegian Champions, Elverum started title defence with three wins in the Norwegian top flight.

On the contrary, Metalurg, grabbed their first points in the SEHA League against fellow VELUX EHF Champions League Group C competitors, Tatran Presov, on Sunday.

Elverum are entering the competition with ambition to do better than last year, when they won three matches.

Metalurg captain Filip Taleski proved to be the key man for Macedonians against Presov. And Croatian coach in charge Lino Cervar stated that Metalurg have to count on team performance: “We have shown progress, but we still have much work ahead of us. I congratulate my players for their commitment. I want to see them as a team. I also call for the support from our great fans, who can help the players to raise the level of their game.”

The Norwegian side have the slightly busier schedule with Norwegian Cup in the middle of the week against Bekkelaget.
The home team are still to be considered slight favourites, but they know from the past that Elverum can rise to the occasion.

Montpellier HB (FRA) vs TATRAN Presov (SVK)

Sunday 25 September, 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV

The only previous VELUX EHF Champions League winners in this group, Montpellier, are to host Presov as match day one in Group C concludes on Sunday evening in France.

Tatran’s young squad awaits the toughest test right in the beginning of the campaign. They already won the Czecho-Slovakian Cup in late August, and qualified for the Champions League Group Phase, but now they need to prove they belong there. Last term, they finished bottom with only two wins. The Slovakian champions started the season in SEHA league with two losses and one win.

Montpellier played over the weekend at the Trophy of the Champions as the 2015/16 French Cup and French League Cup holders. After being beaten in the semi-final by their arch rivals PSG, Montpellier ended in third place by winning against Saint Raphael 33:27. The French championship starts for Montpellier on Thursday at home to Tolouse. New signings have already featured for the Southern French side, including Valentin Porte, Miha Zvizej and Nikola Porter in goal.

The head-to-head record speaks clearly in favour for Montpellier, with two wins from two encounters back in 2010/11, in which Montpellier won Group B and were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Rhein-Neckar Löwen.

Montpellier are clear favourites. On top of that, Presov are coming off a heavy defeat in SEHA League match against Vardar. A long journey back to Presov and then a trip to France are factors that should not to be omitted. “The more experienced players are used to so much travelling. The younger ones will have to get used to it very quickly,” said Radovan Pekar, team captain.

If Presov could hold a solid defence with Pekar in good form, keep technical faults to a minimum and supply Jakub Hrstka with good balls, they just might be able to keep it close.

TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / bc

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