Five talking points after the play-offs have given their verdict
After the exciting group phase and some thrilling play-offs confrontations, we now know the names of the eight best teams in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League this season.
We have summarised what you should know after the play-offs and before the quarter-finals, which will be played in May.
Seven different nations in the quarter-finals
For the first time since 2019, only one country has two teams qualified for the quarter-finals. Three seasons ago, France saw Paris and Nantes among the eight best teams in Europe, but this time Germany will celebrate the presence of two teams - THW Kiel and SC Magdeburg. It is worth noting that an edition has never featured eight teams from eight different countries in the quarter-finals since the implementation of the EHF FINAL4 in 2010.
The Zebras gave Dinamo Bucuresti no chance in the play-offs, winning by 13 goals in Romania a week ago (41:28) before losing by only one in their own Wunderino Arena. Magdeburg, on the other hand, booked a direct ticket to the quarter-finals thanks to their second place finish in group A.
Paris and Kiel meet again on the road to Cologne
For the third consecutive time, Paris and Kiel will play against each other in the quarter-finals, with a TruckScout24 EHF FINAL4 ticket at stake.
Last season, the German side made it to Cologne by just one goal. While PSG and Kiel drew in Paris in the first leg (30:30), THW won by one at home, thanks to last second save by Niklas Landin against Luc Steins.
In the 2020/21 season, things turned the other way, as Paris booked their ticket for the EHF FINAL4 after making up for a two-goal away loss at home.
Plock and GOG, two newcomers in the quarter-finals
Last season, Plock and GOG were playing in the European League quarter-finals, and Wisla even made it to the Finals. Despite both graduating to the Champions League last summer, both clubs proved they were up to the challenge as they qualified for the quarter-finals for the first time in their history.
Plock had to go through a penalty shoot-out to defeat Nantes and were the first team since Chekhov in 2010 to win a quarter-final after the sixty minutes of play had transpired. Wisla tumbled five times in the play-offs before, but their sixth attempt to make it to the quarter-finals was the successful one.
GOG, on the other hand, had not made it to the Champions League Last 16 in the last two decades, so their presence in the play-offs was some kind of event already. But the team led by Simon Pytlick made the most of it to write just a little bit more history, catching their first ever quarter-finals ticket against fellow Danish side Aalborg.
Two thrillers, two easy qualifications
The four play-off confrontations could easily be split into two halves. One half was composed of ties that were almost decided after the first game, while the other half saw teams battling for a ticket until the last minute of the return leg, and even after in one case.
After drawing at home, Plock had to turn a six-goal deficit over in order to lead by two in the second half of the return leg. But the Polish side was not able to retain its advantage, forcing everyone into a penalty shoot-out. Ignacio Biasco Garcia was the hero for Wisla, stopping Kauldi Odriozola’s attempt. In Odense, GOG had to wait until the last 15 minutes of the game in order to break away against Aalborg to secure their first ever quarter-finals presence.
GOG players keep the lead in the scorers list
The Danish side was a really impressive bunch in the group phase already. GOG also put five of their players in the top 20 scorers of the competition, with Simon Pytlick being their offensive leader. But Celje’s Aleks Vlah, whose team did not make it to the play-offs, was sitting on top of the rankings.
The knock-out phase did not change much for the young Danish players. After the play-offs, Pytlick has now taken the lead in the scorers list, with 92 goals, the exact same amount as his teammate Emil Madsen. Line player Emil Jakobsen is not far away, having netted 77 times, while Jerry Tollbring and Morten Olsen also feature in the top 20.