|10.02.2017, 11:40||◄ last page|
GROUP D PREVIEW: Nantes and Motor are through to the next phase but the French side could still lose their first place with a defeat at ABC and a Ukrainian win at Holstebro.
Nantes and Motor tough it out for 1st place
VELUX EHF Champions League Group C winners Montpellier and runners-up La Rioja will find out their play-off opponents from Group D this weekend. Nantes must avoid defeat against ABC in order to avoid a French clash with Montpellier.
Besiktas and Dinamo will face off in a head-to-head battle for third place, while Holstebro will host Motor, who are looking for their sixth win in a row.
Besiktas Mogaz HT (TUR) vs Dinamo Bucuresti (ROU)
For seven rounds, Besiktas were in pole position for a maiden play-off berth in their best ever Champions League season. But Motor’s 34:28 win over Besiktas left the Turkish side with not even a mathematical chance of advancing.
The Turkish champions will still be pumped up for the game against Dinamo with third place at stake.
The third place will also be on Dinamo’s mind after a hit-and-miss season, in which the Romanian side was tied in the last second twice - against Holstebro and Besiktas.
It will be the last chance to shine this season for Sajad Esteki, the current top goal scorer of the competition with 68 goals.
The powerful Iranian left back has been an unstoppable force in the first nine games and was voted best rookie of the season on the EHF Champions League Facebook page.
The Romanian side are on a six-game winning streak, with their latest success in the Romanian league against CSM Fagaras (33:25) last Wednesday.
Dinamo will miss goalkeeper Ionut Irimus, who underwent knee surgery, while Besiktas will be without line player Mehmit Demirezen because of a shoulder injury.
ABC/UMinho (POR) vs HBC Nantes (FRA)
It could have been a clean sweep in the group phase for HBC Nantes in their debut season but they could not get past HC Motor Zaporozhye.
Nevertheless, the French side earned seven wins in their first nine games, boasting both one of the most impressive attacks in the competition and one of the most hermetic defences this season.
No surprise that Nantes are sitting on top of the group and will secure that spot with at least a draw in Portugal.
"In any way possible, we need to win. We want that first place," said left back Olivier Nyokas, the only Nantes player who won gold with the French national team at the home world championships last month.
Nantes obviously want to avoid an all-French play-off game against Montpellier, which will happen if they were to be leapfrogged by Motor in the last round.
The French side resumed their domestic season with a win (38:33) against Aix and are still second in the French league, only one point behind PSG.
Braga brace to leave the competition on a high but will have to do so without Nuno Grilo Pereira, one of their best players this season.
The 29-year-old left back, who scored 52 goals this season in the Champions League, ended his contract by mutual consent and signed with French side Creteil.
With an attack that already dropped its productivity in the last four games, Pereira's loss will be seriously felt against the leaders of the group.
TTH Holstebro (DEN) vs HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR)
A five-game winning streak earned Motor a play-off berth for the second year in a row.
And history could repeat itself as the Ukrainian champions might meet La Rioja again in the elimination round after their 70:67 aggregate win last season.
For that scenario to happen, though, Motor must win the group. When they play on Sunday, they already know if Nantes did lose the previous day and if they can still snatch that No. 1 spot.
"We are not going to Denmark to put up a final show but we are going for the win. Nantes can lose anytime and we can take advantage only if we win this game," Motor left wing Zakhar Denysov said.
The Ukrainian side recorded six wins in their last seven Champions League games. The first one, a 34:28 drubbing of Holstebro, brought back their confidence.
Motor have been preparing intensely for the second part of their season with a training camp in Germany. They played seven games in 10 days.
On the other side, Holstebro have enjoyed a rather relaxed second part of the group phase as they were out of contention early. TTH bounced back, however, and protected their home court against Besiktas and ABC/UMinho, and are now looking to add their third win of the competition on Sunday.
Only Nantes won in Holstebro this season, therefore TTH are a force to be reckoned with in Denmark, especially after winning nine of their previous 10 games in all competitions.
"We are getting better and better this season," TTH coach Patrick Westerholm said. "We are not there yet. We still have slip-ups in defence but if we correct the 5% we are having trouble with, we could say we are there."
TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / ew