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21.09.2016, 22:29◄ last page     

GROUP A PREVIEW: With only 90 km between them Flensburg vs Veszprém and Kiel vs PSG open the “hammer group” A

North of Germany home to two epic clashes

"This is the strongest ever group in European club handball,” was the opinion of everybody involved in Group A.  After Veszprém, PSG, Kiel and Flensburg have already been part of last season’s Group A, now record winners FC Barcelona Lassa will join this quartet to be the icing on the cake.

Barcelona (8), Kiel (3) and Flensburg (1) represent 12 EHF Champions League titles, Veszprém had been finalists in 2015 and 2016 and PSG are the top favourites - and all five of them have the goal to make it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne - a goal, which at least one of them will miss.

Right on the first match day of the group phase four of them clash - within a distance of 90 kilometres of each other in Northern Germany and a difference of only 26 hours. But Group A will be thrown-off in Switzerland on Thursday.

Kadetten Schaffhausen (SUI) vs Bjerringbro-Silkeborg (DEN)
Thursday, 20:00 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV

Three teams are considered to be fighting for the sixth position and the final spot for the Last 16 below the top quintet: Kadetten, Bjerringbro and Plock. So any direct duel of those three has an extra-ordinary significance. The match against the new Danish champions will be the first international match for Danish born coach Lars Walther for Kadetten.

The Swiss side made some impressive signings over the summer and are seen to be in the favourite role in the opening match of Group A. On the other hand, Bjerringbro are back in the group phase after a four-year absence, and play their first ever Champions League season as Danish champions.

Both sides clashed once in the Last 16 of the 2006/07 Cup Winners’ Cup, with the Danes winning in aggregate by eight goals (30:20, 28:30).

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs Telekom Veszprém (HUN)
Saturday, 17:30 hrs. local time – live on ehfTV.com (Match of the Week)

“Every game will be like a FINAL4 game. For the supporters it will be amazing because they will see extremely good and interesting games every week,” says Veszprém’s new sport director Nikola Eklemovic, and the schedule proves this statement right in round one.

Last season, Veszprém took the fortress in Flensburg to finally secure the second spot in this group. Since 2014, one of Saturday’s ‘Match of the Week’ opponents ended up being VELUX EHF Champions League finalist - 2014 Flensburg won the trophy, 2015 and 2016 Veszprém lost the finals (against Barcelona and Kielce).

Flensburg count on almost the same squad as previous season, while the Hungarian champions increased the number of players significantly, as they are part of three competitions (Hungarian league, SEHA-Liga and Champions League) and aim to finish on top of all. Former PSG and Barcelona player Marko Kopljar or the top scorer of the 2015 World Championship, Dragan Gajic, are among the new arrivals.

In the 2015/16 opener at home, Flensburg shocked big favourites PSG with an unexpected 39:33, while Veszprém fired their coach Carlos Antonio Ortega after the opening draw at Plock. So there will be fire under the roof of the FLENS-Arena. The overall balance of both powerhouses is equal with three wins each.

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP)
Saturday, 18:00 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV.com

It was the 6th of December 2014, a day that everybody remembers at Plock. It was the day, when the “Oilers” managed to be the only team in the whole Champions League season 2014/15 to beat to-be champions FC Barcelona Lassa. This win will be the motivation for the Polish runners-up on Saturday again.

Barcelona have signed some young guns such as Dane Lasse Andersson (Kolding) to rejuvenate their squad, while experienced players like Danijel Saric, Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson or Marko Kopljar have all left.

Last year, the Catalans had started their Champions League season with a defeat (at Rhein-Neckar Löwen), this year, the team of coach Xavi Pascual hope not to stumble again in the fortress of the Oilers, under the helm of their new coach Piotr Przybecki.

THW Kiel (GER) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Sunday, 19:30 hrs. local time, live on ehfTV.com

One year ago, PSG ended an impressive THW series in the Sparkassen-Arena-Kiel. Nearly four years, Kiel had not been beaten in Champions League matches on home court, then their former coach Noka Serdarusic and his team won 30:26 - the first of in total three Paris victories over Kiel last season including the 3-4 placement match at the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

For PSG new arrival Uwe Gensheimer will have his first match in Germany since leaving Rhein-Neckar Löwen, and besides Serdarusic, his assistant coach Staffan Olsson, Thierry Omeyer, Nikola Karabatic and Daniel Narcisse have all played for THW.

The hosts have signed the German EHF EURO 2016 hero Andreas Wolff to form the best goalkeeper duo in the competition with Niklas Landin, while PSG made some more impressive transfers such as snapping up Croat Luka Stepancic.

“It is impossible to predict the winner of this match and the winner of this group,” says new THW team captain Domagoj Duvnjak. In his team, Christian Dissinger is ruled out by an injury, which occurred at the Olympic Games.

From Rio, an overall of four players on court on Sunday took gold medals with Denmark: Landin and Rene Toft Hansen on Kiel’s side and tournament MVP Mikkel Hansen and Henrik Mölgaard (PSG).

TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc

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