Group C remains the closest of all groups in the VELUX EHF Champions League. With a difference of only five points between frontrunners Montpellier HB and bottom-ranked Elverum Handball, all teams in the group still have a chance of booking a play-off berth.
However, with only three games remaining in the group phase, there is no room for slip-ups.
In Round 8, Naturhouse La Rioja travel to Montpellier after their surprising defeat to Chekhovskie Medvedi, and the result of their clash will prove influential in the final standings.
• The Russian ‘Bears’ host Elverum on Thursday to kick off the action in Group C
• Montpellier can become the first Group C side to qualify to group phase knock-out matches
• High-flying Metalurg and Chekhovskie Medvedi aim to continue fine form in home matches
• Lino Cervar’s squad welcome Presov for a tough match between two teams level on six points
GROUP C Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs Elverum Handball (NOR)
Thursday 24th November, 19:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
After a shocking win in Logrono in Round 7, Vladimir Maximov’s team are back in the race for a play-off berth.
The Russian side should be able confirm it at home in their upcoming match against Elverum, after waiting 1,440 days for an away win and finally securing one last weekend. The last away victory before the win in Spain dates back to 29 November 2012 in Belgrade against Partizan.
Next up is Elverum. The team coached by Michael Apelgren played a disappointing match versus Metalurg in Round 7, despite entering the game as favourites.
Elverum’s inconsistency in attack was the main difference compared to Metalurg, as the Scandinavian team were too predictable. Whenever a surprising pass beat the defence, there stood goalkeeper Darko Arsic – who was a nightmare for the Norwegian team.
On Thursday, Elverum will come across another magician in goal: Oleg Grams. The long-serving Chekhov goalkeeper put on a good performance against La Rioja, and his confidence has therefore increased.
Chekhov have the worst defence in the group with 196 goals allowed so far in the season, though they are on 0 goal difference as they scored the same number of goals.
Fans can expect a close, tough match in Russia – both teams are still in the contest for a place in the play-offs, but a win is essential.
Montpellier HB (FRA) vs La Rioja (ESP)
Saturday 26th November, 18:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
Will Palais des sports René Bougnol burst in joy after the final whistle on Saturday? Montpellier can become the first team from Group C to earn a group phase knock-out ticket if they win against La Rioja – and Chekhovskie Medvedi lose to Elverum.
After a rather shaky start to the campaign Montpellier won four matches in a row and now enjoy sitting on top of the group with 10 points.
Patrice Canayer’s men recorded two important away victories in the last two games in Presov and Skopje, and they are very close to securing the expected play-off spot.
Montpellier are expecting a big week as they travel to Paris on Wednesday and host La Rioja on Saturday, but they are also confident after winning the last seven games in all competitions.
“Our behaviour in the game, the skills we showed, and generally, in all aspects of the game, we have done well. I think there is still room for improvement and I still expect a lot from this team, but I think we're on the right path,” said coach Canayer.
In Round 7 La Rioja were surprised by determined Chekhovskie to lose 34:37, suffering their first home defeat in what ended as the second-highest scoring game of the 2016/2017 VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase.
Despite an inspiring performance from right wing Albert Rocas with 11 goals, an injury to Carlos Molina and weak defence gave La Rioja’s lead away in the second half.
“A good game in offence could not compensate for gaps in the defence. We made a lot of mistakes, especially when we, instead of taking the game in our hands, conceded goals from the opponent,“ admitted Jota Gonzalez after the shocking loss.
A defeat on Saturday does not end either sides’ hopes of qualifying for the next round, but the winner will be at a significant advantage.
HC Metalurg (MKD) vs TATRAN Presov (SVK)
Sunday 27th November, 17:30 hrs local time, live on ehfTV.com
Presov’s chances of qualifying for the play-offs dropped after their second loss to Montpellier this season, but there is positive news in the form of Radovan Pekar’s return after illness.
Once again, in Round 7, a change of defence from 6-0 to 4-2 worked for Rastislav Trtik’s men with Presov winning the second half against Montpellier – something unusual for the team.
Presov do not have their fate entirely in their own hands, but they are determined to fight until the end.
“We will fight to win matches and see how the other results turn out,” says Presov centre back Lukas Urban.
The eastern Slovakian side still miss Oliver Rabek in the back court, as his strength from distance would strengthen their attack.
On the other side stands Lino Cervar’s young Metalurg crew. The Croatian genius showed his coaching master class against Elverum, confusing the Norwegians with his extra-player game.
“I'm satisfied because my players played really well. We were already eight goals ahead in the 24th minute. My only concern is that my players could have decided the game in the first half,” said Cervar.
“In the second part, we let the home team come back into the game, but unlike many previous games, we handled the psychological pressure and returned to winning rhythm. This means that our team slowly develops.”
Both teams are currently on six points, and whoever wins this game will stand at least a theoretical chance of progressing.
Interestingly, out of eight head-to-head outings between these two sides, the visiting team prevailed only once – Presov in the SEHA League back in 2013.
In October, Presov won the first-leg VELUX EHF Champions League encounter at home by five goals.