The business end of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase is here and the teams that will make mistakes are likely to fall on their swords, with little room of error.
With Nantes failing to win against Motor last week, the battle for the first two places is more open, but the French side can secure a playoff berth with a win against Besiktas on Sunday.
The Ukrainian side is the in-form team of the group, with a three-game winning streak and can edge closer to the playoff with a win against Dinamo that would mean the end of the road for the Romanian champions.
• Nantes were the only unbeaten team heading into Round 7, but a tough Motor side took a 34:32 win in France
• Dinamo’s morale has been boosted by a 22:19 win against rivals Steaua Bucuresti in the Romanian League
• Besiktas is the only team in the group that boasts a 100 per cent home record, with wins against ABC, Motor and TTH Holstebro
• TTH Holstebro and ABC will only play for pride, as both teams have been eliminated after Round 7
HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) vs Dinamo Bucuresti (ROU)
Saturday, 26 November, 16:00hrs local time, live on ehfTV
There is literally no room for error for Dinamo, as the Romanian side will throw-off the most important part of the season.
Their win against Holstebro last round meant that the “Red Dogs” still have everything to play for, but they must win in their last two away matches against Motor and Besiktas to proceed to the playoff phase.
Not only have Dinamo not earn a point in away games this season, but both Motor and Besiktas protected their home court with 100 per cent efficiency until the Round 8.
It will be even harder for the Romanian champions, who are meeting an in-form Motor, a team that is hoping to ride their three-game winning streak right to the next phase for the third time in the last four years.
“I do not think that any of these teams are weak, hence the results until now. We lost against Besiktas and Dinamo, but bounced back with a win against Nantes, who were previously unbeaten.”
“We are tired, but we need to be up at 100 per cent against Dinamo and Besiktas. I think these games will be decisive,” said Motor’s right back, Evgeniy Buinenko.
The Ukrainian side is eyeing a playoff berth ahead of their last game against TTH Holstebro that will take place in February 2017, due to the break caused by the World Championship.
“We have two home games coming and this is the most important part of the group for us. The win against Nantes would count for nothing if we do not take advantage of our schedule.”
“We did win two games at home and we also drew against Nantes. If everything goes according to plan, we will be already qualified,” added Motor’s goalkeeper, Gennadiy Komok.
However, Dinamo will be buoyed by a midweek win, 22:19, against archrivals Steaua Bucuresti in the Romanian “Eternal Derby”.
The 22:19 win, in which goalkeeper Ionut Irimus saved six seven-meter throws, has acted as a morale boost, as coach Eliodor Voica hopes the hard-fought will serve to help his defence and goalkeeper.
TTH Holstebro (DEN) vs ABC/UMinho (POR)
Sunday, 27 November, 15:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
A dazing collapse in the offensive department saw ABC dip from 32,5 goals scored per match in the first four games to only 24 goals scored per match in the last three, was the main reason for the Portuguese three-game losing streak.
With only two wins after seven rounds, Carlos Resende’s side is now mathematically out of the competition, but is likely to keep the flag flying, as ABC is looking to tie their best-ever season in the VELUX EHF Champions League, in which they won four games 16 years ago.
“We know we did not pick up well where we left off after the first games, but such is the competition.”
“ABC will continue to play at full strength, because that is what we do here,” said Carlos Resende, ABC’s coach.
After their defeat against Dinamo last Thursday, Holstebro were also eliminated from the top European competition, their only win against Besiktas falling short of the requirements to stay in the hunt for a playoff berth.
It was yet another defensive collapse for the Danish side, who have conceded the most goals after 7 rounds this season, 224, with Holstebro having only one game with a score line under 30 goals (win against Besiktas, 29:25).
But Holstebro are improving, as reflected by Patrick Westerholm, their coach, after the midweek win in the Danish league, 29:28, against Mors-Thy.
“I really think that we did OK defensively. OK, we had our share of problems, but I think it was really good,” said Westerholm.
It will be one of the last chances for Magnus Grubb Bramming to extend his lead in the top scorers ranking, as the pacy winger has scored 60 goals in 7 matches, 13 more than the next player, Uwe Gensheimer.
Besiktas Mogaz HT (TUR) vs HBC Nantes (FRA)
Sunday, 27 November, 17:00 hrs local time, live on ehfTV
Round 7 brought Nantes’ dream to an end, as the French side lost the first game in their history in the VELUX EHF Champions League, after failing to protect their home court against Motor.
The French side could be in real trouble if they lose against Besiktas, with the Turkish side tying with them in the rankings, in what seemed an impossible feature a few rounds back.
While Nantes failed to secure a playoff berth last week, they could do it against Besiktas, as a win would cement their first place and mathematically seal a top-two finish.
“We were the only unbeaten team until Round 7 and we threw off the season in style. It is a special season for us and I think the team had ambition and grit in every game because it is the first season in the VELUX EHF Champions League,” said Alberto Entrerrios, Nantes’ assistant coach.
“But now there is no room for mistake and for Besiktas it is one of the last chances to progress to the next phase of the competition. It will be a tough game for us,” added Entrerrios.
The Turkish side has a negative goal difference, and consistency has been key, with two one-goal wins and a two-goal win against ABC/UMinho.
However, Besiktas’ track record on their home court is spotless, with wins against ABC, Motor and TTH Holstebro.
“We won against them, 33:19, it was our biggest win, but a lot has changed for them since then. They have been better, they got used to the competition,” said Entrerrios.
The Turkish side had a week to prepare for the Nantes challenge and took an important 38:33 win against Merzifon Belediyesi in the Turkish league on Wednesday.
A 11-goal outburst from Ramazan Döne was enough to secure the win against ABC last week, as the veteran was selected for the “Best 7” in the last round.
“I am proud of this and I hope to take the good form into the game against Nantes,” concluded Döne.