|08.02.2017, 21:41||◄ last page|
PREVIEW: Now that is what we call a thrilling start to the competition: three teams can finish on top of Group B at the end of the first round in 2017 this week
Kielce out to get revenge on Löwen
Group B of the VELUX EHF Champions League resumes in 2017 finely balanced with three teams in with a chance to claim top spot. Group leaders Kielce travel to Mannheim, Vardar take on Zagreb and Szeged travel to Brest in their quest for first place.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL)
Reigning champions Kielce had gone one and a half years without a home defeat (Montpellier beat the Polish powerhouse in March 2015) before Rhein-Neckar Löwen pulled off one of the most shocking victories of the season in Kielce in October.
Since the 34:26 defeat Kielce, got back to winning ways and sit on top of Group B but their supremacy will be put to the test in Mannheim. Löwen simply cannot afford to settle for less than a win at home if they want to climb up the rankings.
While Kielce ended 2016 on a high note putting together a three-game winning streak, the German team lost two of their last three games. However, it is not only the German club who have to pull themselves together as Kielce coach Talant Dujshebaev and four Polish national team players failed to deliver at the World Championship, finishing 17th.
HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN)
The teams’ first clash back in October may have been a balanced game but Juan Carlos Pastor performed magic with his team of 12 newcomers and it is without doubt the Hungarian team looks stronger than their Belarusian rivals at this stage of the season.
Szeged have a shot at first place, but a win in Brest alone would not guarantee top spot. Meshkov are building a shocking run of draws as they tied their last three games but two of those came away from home.
Brest have already beaten Rhein-Neckar Löwen at home and Szeged cannot take their trip to Belarus lightly. It is also worth mentioning that Belarus (with four Brest players) beat Hungary (four Szeged and one Brest) in the World Championship preliminary round, though Hungary went on to reach the quarter-finals after stunning Denmark in the Last 16.
HC Vardar (MKD) vs HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb (CRO)
Vardar lost their last two games in 2016, but it is even more alarming for the Macedonian outfit that PPD Zagreb shocked them at home and managed to overturn a huge half-time deficit to beat them.
Zagreb may have only two victories but the Croatians are capable of causing upsets, even away from home.
Apart from their trip to Szeged, Vardar are done with their games against teams sitting above them and obviously would not want to let their chance of climbing up the rankings slip from their hands.
Löwen’s victory in Skopje may give hope to the visitors but that defeat may have been just a hiccup considering Vardar won against Kielce and Szeged with relative ease (scoring 40 goals against the former).
As far as fatigue is concerned, FYR Macedonia did not make it to the quarter-finals of the World Championship in January (Zagreb’s six Croatian marched to the final weekend of the competition) but Vardar had players in the national teams of Spain, Brazil, Russia and Croatia as well.
RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE)
Celje take on Kristianstad in a match that has a big influence on the race for sixth place and the final spot in the knockout stage. In the wake of their first away point of the season, Kristianstad are trying to build on their home performance against Celje: in October the Slovenians were lucky to snatch a point from Sweden.
Celje lost only two of their last five games and could be in a much better position had they won any of the remaining three.
With three draws the Slovenian outfit still occupy sixth place but their one and only victory came in the first round (against Zagreb) and now is the time to draw strength from the heroics of the Slovenian national team, which contained five Celje players and snatched the bronze medal from the jaws of defeat against Zagreb – coming from eight goals down to win.
Kristianstad can ill afford to lose this match if they wish to hold on to dreams of reaching the Last 16 for the first time.
TEXT: Bence Martha / cor