Four teams contest third place, four world champions in Montpellier
Many players showed their qualities on the global stage for their countries in France, but now it is time to focus once again on club handball. With two play-off spots already determined in Group C, the rest of the teams have all to play for before their last matches in the group phase. Four teams can still claim third spot in Group C which concludes on Sunday (12 February) and four World Championship winners will be present on court in Montpellier.
Four teams battle it out for third spot
Presov will rewrite club history should they take points against La Rioja
First VELUX EHF Champions League game for Metalurg without Filip Taleski
Four French world champions will feature in Montpellier
All fixtures, results, live scores and tables can be found HERE
TATRAN Presov (SVK) vs Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP)
Saturday 11 February, 16:00 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Whilst second-placed La Rioja have little to play for – they cannot be caught or move up a place, and had already secured their play-off place before the international break – Presov are fighting to improve their best-ever VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase record.
Currently on seven points, Rastislav Trtík’s men can surpass their maximum total from the first-ever group phase participation in 2004/05.
Unlike the Spaniards, TATRAN had a shorter international break. Since the beginning of the year they have played seven league matches, losing their first domestic league game of the season against Povazka Bystrica, but still leading the league comfortable – winning the Slovakian cup for the 11th time in a row during this time will also ease the pain of that league loss.
Contrary to the Slovakians, La Rioja have played just two ASOBAL League games in 2017 - with mixed success, losing one and winning one but they will be encouraged by the fact that the eastern Slovakian side have failed to beat them on their three previous occasions.
But the gap is getting smaller as their match in Spain this season suggested the difference between the teams is not as big as has been in the past. Presov were leading 18:16 at half-time, only to fall behind after the break.
No less than three different countries had La Rioja representation at France 2017; Haniel Langaro led Brazil to the eighth-finals with 28 goals, where his side were eliminated by a Spain side featuring his teammate Angel Fernandez. The La Rioja winger scored 25 goals in seven matches, making him the third best scorer in the Spanish national team. The third player was Egyptian Mohammad Sanad who scored 16 goals, but his side failed to get past Croatia in the eighth-finals.
Presov should have an advantage with a healthy squad – something they could not rely on in their meeting last year, although their opponents were themselves in a similar situation, with a number of key players out during the busy season.
La Rioja can count on their new singing, 21-year-old Serbian centre-back Lazar Kukic, the top scorer in the Serbian Superliga. Jota Gonzalez’s men possess the second best offensive record (267 goals in nine games) in the group, but their defence is the second worst (256).
Montpellier HB (FRA) vs Elverum Handball (NOR)
Sunday 12 February, live on ehfTV.com
Two weeks after France claimed the 2017 IHF Men’s World Championship in Paris, beating Norway 33:26 in the final, the French meet the Norwegians again, but on club level in Montpellier.
Four French world champions, including the All-Star Team goalkeeper Vincent Gerard, along with two Slovenian bronze medallists make for an exceptional Montpellier line-up which, unsurprisingly, made it to ninth spot in the recent VELUX EHF Champions League Power Rakings.
The only negative aspect from the world championship for the French side is a long-term injury Slovenian right-back Vid Kavticnik picked up.
To add to the excitement in the capital of Hérault, Montpellier won its first domestic league match of 2017, against Dunkerque 31:26. On top of that, Mathieu Grébille made a comeback following an injury suffered in a match against Chekhovskie Medvedi. So far so good in 2017 for Montpellier and a sold-out Palais des Sports René Bougnol can expect a real handball celebration.
Montpellier are on a six-game winning run, one game away from equalling their longest winning run in the competition, a run started after a narrow loss in Elverum.
Without the injured Kavticnik as well as Argentinean Diego Simonet, Montpellier coach Patrice Canayer has been forced to change his line-up although with the luxury of a secured top spot in the group, it was inevitable regardless of injury.
The Norwegian national side may have exceeded expectations at the world championship, nearly emulating their female counterparts but losing in that final. Elverum have also done a good job at a club level so far this season in the Champions league.
Last year they were considered by many as a ‘dark horse’, but they have built on the momentum to firmly take their place amongst the European elite.
A domestic cup defeat at the end of the last year to Haslum HK should not spoil the uptrend shown by the Norwegian side in recent months, rewarded with two players in the Norwegian squad in France; Andre Lindboe and Peter Overby.
Whilst Montpellier have practically nothing to play for, except their responsibility towards their fans, Elverum fight for third spot in the group against three other teams. Should they fail to pick up any points, they could easily end towards the wrong end of the table.
HC Metalurg (MKD) vs Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS)
Sunday 12 February, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com
The match with most for both teams to play for is expected in Macedonian capital Skopje. Bottom-placed Chekhovskie Medvedi pay a visit to fourth-placed Metalurg and, ahead of the final round of games, Medvedi have to win and hope Elverum and Presov do not take points from their respective matches to stand a chance for third place.
Coach Lino Cervar proved his qualities by inspiring the youngsters of Metalurg, who finished bottom of Group D last season, to fight for third spot. “We want to win, because a win will see us climb the table,” he said. “We have the youngest team in the Champions League and if we win, a third place for me and for these young players is a step forward.”
Metalurg are coming off a surprising win over the best Croatian side HC PPD Zagreb in the SEHA League but Cervar warns about the quality of their Sunday opponents.
“It's a very experienced team with quality players,” he said. “Alexander Kotov makes a big impact and we must stop him, as well as their Russian national team players.
“It is a strong and young group of players who play fast. They beat La Rioja away and we expect them to play a 5-1 defence.”
The Macedonians have a lot of experience against ‘The Bears’ to learn from after failing to beat them on their three previous occasions.
Medvedi are enjoying fine domestic form after three of their players featured at the world championship in France. Dmitry Kovalev, with 22 goals in six games, was the best goal scorer for a Russia side which also featured his club teammate Dmitry Pavlenko and Alexander Chernoivanov.
With Filip Taleski signing for Rhein-Neckar Löwen in early January, it will be fascinating to see if the Macedonians can keep up that momentum from the SEHA League victory against Zagreb and power through to the play-offs.