2021.02.14 HC Vardar 1961 MOL Pick Szeged Canellas
EHF Champions League

Reunions in Skopje and Nantes for play-off battles

Kevin Domas / Björn Pazen

For the first time, under the new format of the EHF Champions League introduced this season, play-offs will decide the full lineup of quarter-finalists. Following the EHF decision that all 16 teams will be part of the knockout stage, as some group matches needed to be assessed due to COVID-19 reasons, the play-off phase will offer even more matches — and more thrills — than anticipated.

The two French sides will have tough fights in the first leg of their Last 16 confrontations. Nantes appear to be the underdogs at home against Kielce, while Paris travel to Celje — a place where many powerhouses have struggled this season. While the match-up between Porto and Aalborg looks undecided, the clash between Elverum and Barça is, on paper, clearly in favour of the Spanish side.

Group winners Flensburg will face Zagreb, which brings the Buric brothers together as rivals. Defending champions Kiel have a tough challenge at Szeged, while the local rivals Motor and Meshkov duel in Zaporozhye. Veszprém are the favourites in the rematch of the 2019 Champions League final in Skopje.

MOTW: HBC Nantes (FRA) vs Lomza Vive Kielce (POL)
Wednesday 31 March, 20:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • Nantes finished sixth in group B while Kielce were third in group A
  • the two sides have never met in a European competition
  • this game will be the first opportunity for former Nantes player Nicolas Tournat to visit his former teammates, as he left France last summer
  • Kielce left back Daniel Dujshebaev suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago and will be out for the rest of the season
  • Nantes only lost two Champions League games since the beginning of 2021, against Celje and Barça

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)
Thursday 1 April, 20:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • Celje placed seventh in group B while Paris clinched second spot in group A
  • Celje already played twice against a French team in the Champions League this season: They lost to Nantes at home before winning away in February 2021
  • Paris had to postpone their last two games in the French league due to Covid-19 cases in their ranks
  • since 2015, the two sides have faced each other eight times in the Champions League, and Paris won all the confrontations

FC Porto (POR) vs Aalborg Handbold (DEN)
Thursday 1 April, 20:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • Porto ranked fifth in group A while Aalborg finished fourth in group B
  • the two sides have never met in European cup competitions
  • Porto signed Hungarian goalkeeper Marton Szekely from Veszprém to make up for the tragic loss of Alfredo Quintana
  • the Portuguese side are the undefeated leaders of the Portuguese league this season, while Aalborg stand third in the Danish league
  • Aalborg recently made official the signing of Jesper Nielsen (Rhein-Neckar Löwen) for next summer

Elverum Handball (NOR) vs Barça (ESP)
Friday 2 April, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV
Monday 5 April, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • Elverum finished last in group A while Barça were undisputed first in group B, with 14 wins in as many games
  • the two clubs have only met twice before, in last season’s Champions League group phase, and Barcelona won both contests
  • the two games between the two sides will be played in Spain, with the first leg scheduled for Friday and the second one for next Monday
  • Elverum have not played a game since 4 March due to the cancellation of the end of the Norwegian league

HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)

  • the first leg has been postponed due to COVID cases within the Zagreb team
  • HC PPD Zagreb informed the EHF of two positive tested players within the team and consequently the entire team must be isolated 

HC Vardar 1961 (MKD) vs Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN)
Thursday 1 April, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • Veszprém finished their group B campaign second ranked below Barça, with 20 points, while Vardar only took one victory in 14 group matches on court — funnily enough, against group winners Flensburg — and finished seventh
  • it is a rematch of the Champions League 2019 final, when Vardar took their second trophy after 2017 thanks to a 27:24 victory versus the Hungarian powerhouse
  • in total, Veszprém have won eight of the 11 previous Champions League duels against Vardar — including the clear victories in the previous season (38:29 and 39:30) — drawn once and lost twice
  • in September 2020, Veszprém won their third trophy in the SEHA League by beating Vardar 35:27 in the final
  • five current Veszprém players had played for Vardar before: Vuko Borozan, Dejan Manaskov, Jorge Maqueda, Rogerio Moraes and Daniil Shishkarev
  • in the current SEHA League season, Vardar have won three of five matches so far, while Veszprém are undefeated leaders of the Hungarian league after 18 victories and one draw. They beat their biggest rivals, Szeged, last week

MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs THW Kiel (GER)
Wednesday 31 March, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • thanks to two victories in the last rounds, Kiel jumped into third position in group B, while Szeged finished sixth in group A
  • the sides met in the Champions League Last 16 in the 2015/16 and 2017/18 seasons, with Kiel proceeding to the quarter-finals twice thanks to victories on home ground after away defeats
  • Szeged’s Joan Canellas and new arrival Marko Vujin used to play for Kiel. Vujin, who arrived from Vardar, replaces injured Croatian right back Luka Stepancic
  • while THW goalkeeper Niklas Landin was in Covid-19 quarantine last week, defence specialists Hendrik Pekeler and Pavel Horak were injured during the 28:31 defeat against Flensburg
  • Kiel are second ranked in the German league, as are Pick in the Hungarian league. After their 23:27 defeat in Veszprém, Szeged are 13 points below the top side

HC Motor (UKR) vs HC Meshkov Brest (BLR)
Thursday 1 April, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • Motor played a strong group phase, including six victories in a row, and finished fifth, while Meshkov were fourth ranked in group A thanks to a record that included a victory against PSG
  • Meshkov were the only away team to snatch a point from group winners Flensburg
  • Motor’s Belarusian goalkeeper Ivan Maroz will face many national teammates on Brest’s side
  • in the Champions League, the teams only clashed twice — in the previous season, when Brest won both duels. Meshkov also won both legs of the SEHA League 2019/20 quarter-finals against Motor
  • Viachaslau Bokhan (Motor) and Mikita Vailupau (Brest) are joint-third on the season’s top scorer list, with 67 goals each

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