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Five talking points at the end of an exciting group phase

Viber Image 2022 11 18 12 18 17 274 EHF / Kevin Domas

After 14 rounds of exciting games of handball, now has come the time to draw the curtain on the group phase of the 2022/23 Machineseeker EHF Champions League.

While some clubs, like Barça, Paris or Kielce, made sure they knew their fate early, some others had to battle until the last second of the last game in order to secure their play-offs spot.

Two clubs book their quarter-finals ticket for the second straight time

Four clubs booked their quarter-finals spots right after the group, and two of them - Kielce and Barça - enjoyed a similar fate in 2021/22. The Spanish side, double reigning-champions in the Champions League, even achieved this performance for the third-straight time. For Paris, this is not unknown territory either, as the French side booked their ticket for the quarter-finals from 2018 to 2020.

This qualification does not give the clubs any advantage for the FINAL4, though, as last season proved. Aalborg were defeated last season by Veszprem at that stage of the competition, as were Flensburg in 2020/21.

GOG books all places in the power rankings

GOG made their comeback in the Champions League for the first time since 2020, and we can already say this has been a successful one. The Danish side finished fourth in group A, just behind Paris, Magdeburg and Veszprem. Along the way, Morten Olsen and his teammates were able to upset both Magdeburg and Veszprem, from which they took points on one occasion during the season.

But in order to do so, GOG were able to count on amazing individual performances. Four of their players are ranked in the top 15 scorers of the competition. Emil Madsen, Simon Pytlick, Morten Olsen and Lukas Jorgensen all scored more than 80 goals this season. On the defensive side, Tobias Thulin leads the saving ranking for goalkeepers with the most saves, 171, and the highest efficiency rate, 32.6%.

What a comeback for SCM

The last time the historic German club played in the Champions League was in the 2005/06 season, seventeen years ago. So when SC Magdeburg, champion for the last time in 2002, made their comeback into the top flight, one could wonder how relevant they would be. Sure, they had played in the EHF European League last year, after lifting the trophy in 2021, but still the Champions League remains a completely different level.

Clearly, it did not take much time for Magdeburg to settle in, as Bennett Wiegert’s boys won their first two games of the season. But not only that, they also were the first side this season to take a point against Veszprem. Led by their iconic Icelandic duo made of Gisli Kristjansson and Omar Ingi Magnusson, they grabbed a prestigious win in Paris right before Christmas (37:33). And to sum it up, they secured second spot at home against Veszprem in round 12 (32:25).

Zagreb, some positives to retain despite the elimination

Zagreb have not made it out of the Champions League group phase since 2019 and this season, just like the last one, it all went down to the last day. Zagreb were eliminated by Elverum in 2021/22, and this time, they were ousted by Plock. As the two sides each visited Porto in the last two rounds, only the Polish one was able to come back victorious, taking the decisive two points along the way.

But there are plenty of things to hope for in Zagreb for the future, as Timur Dibirov displayed all his experience to help the roster in its play-offs quest. And while his team fell short again, new coach Slavko Goluza, who made his comeback mid-November, clearly brought some new ideas to the Zagreb Arena. He is probably convinced, just like us, that it is just a matter of time before Zagreb join the knock-out phase again.

Former European League clubs show their best faces

At the beginning of the season, three clubs playing the EHF European League last season joined the top flight: GOG, Wisla Plock and Nantes. We talked about the Danish side earlier, and the story of the French one is just as impressive. In their first appearance in the Champions League since 2020, “Le H” defeated Kiel at home by eight (38:30), inflicted a similar fate on 2021 finalists Aalborg (35:28) and finally finished third in a group where they were rubbing shoulders with favourites Barça, Kielce and Kiel.

For Plock, the journey has not been such an easy one, as the Polish side had to wait until the last second of the last round to book their ticket for the play-offs. But, despite going through a bad phase in the winter, Plock bounced back just in time in Porto to take the win, and the ticket along with it.

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