Aalborg upset Kielce on Hansen return; Barça ease past Montpellier
The Machineseeker EHF Champions League 2023/24 season threw off Wednesday with the first four matches of round 1. Last season's runners-up Industria Kielce came up short against Aalborg Håndbold, while record champions Barça, debutants Kolstad Handball, and GOG got their campaigns off to a winning start. The remaining four matches are scheduled for Thursday.
- after nine years and seven duels, Industria Kielce were defeated for the first time by Aalborg Håndbold (34:31), which saw star player Mikkel Hansen return to the European courts after six months
- thanks to an outstanding performance of goalkeeper Torbjørn Bergerud, Kolstad Handball won their debut EHF Champions League match by nine goals (31:22) at HC Eurofarm Pelister
- record champions Barça took the hurdle in Montpellier in style (30:25), despite missing regular goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas
- at GOG vs Celje Pivovarna Laško, the lead changed seven times during the match with the hosts ultimately giving their new coach Ian Marko Fog a winning start: 38:36
- the newly implemented video replay technology was used several times by the referees – and led to two red-card decisions, against Mads Hoxer (Aalborg) and Lukas Pellas (Montpellier)
What a debut for Kolstad Handball in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League: Magnus Gullerud scored the first goal as the Norwegian champions built a 9:3 lead within 15 minutes. HC Eurofarm Pelister’s comeback in the topflight competition after 18 years ended in a clear defeat. On Kolstad’s side, the top scorer was not superstar Sander Sagosen, who had returned home to Trondheim after playing in Aalborg, Paris, and Kiel, but 30-year-old EHF Champions League debutant Adrian Aalberg, who netted nine times. The standout player, however, was Aalborg goalkeeper Torbjørn Bergerud with an exceptional number of 21 saves, stopping almost half of the opponents' shots on goal.
We played with a lot of concentration, great defence and Bergerud in great form. It was the pleasure playing in this handball atmosphere.
Having to replace goalkeeper Andreas Wolff, who is out for six weeks with a back injury, was a huge disadvantage for Industria Kielce. Even more so with Wolff’s former THW Kiel teammate Niklas Landin having a great night including 10 important saves in his first international match for Aalborg Håndbold. In his international comeback after six months, Mikkel Hansen became Aalborg's top scorer with seven goals. Aalborg led throughout after 20 (11:10). Kielce were too weak in defence, but almost benefitted from a red card against Aalborg’s Mads Hoxer after the first-ever video replay in an EHF Champions League group match. Boosted by 11 goals of Szymon Sicko, the hosts were close to turn the match around at 30:31, but crucial strikes of Aalborg’s new arrival Aleks Vlah decided the match.
Aalborg played a very good game during 60 minutes. Niklas Landin made the difference. Two, three times we had chances to get level. I am very angry with me – when team loses, the coach loses. This is my mistake, maybe I could do something more. We have to take a lesson from this game.
What a thriller at Odense! Two teams with a heavily changed squad played 'run and gun', and until the very last minute, both could have won this goal feast. Both sides clearly focused on attack, rather than on defence. Despite 13 saves of goalkeeper Rok Zaponsek and eight strikes of line player Stefan Zabic, the bravely fighting visitors came up short in the end. Celje were leading when crunch time started, but 38-year-old veteran Morten Olsen from the penalty line and Swede Linus Persson were GOG’s key factors in the last minutes.
Celje have an interesting team. I am a little worried about our game, because we had trouble in the defence. We didn't have the timing, and we need to improve that if we want to play a role in this year's Champions League.
In front of 7,500 spectators in the Sud de France Arena, Montpellier’s last lead was in minute 11 (5:4). But Barça struggled to really shake off their opponents despite an six-goal lead at the break. Backed by tremendous support from their fans, Montpellier kept coming back. Scoring seven of his eight goals in the first half, new Barça team captain Dika Mem was on fire, but the hosts got close again as they cut Barça's lead back to 19:17, before a 5:0 run of the record champions decided the encounter. Barça goalkeeper Gonzalo Perez de Vargas was brilliantly replaced by Emil Nielsen (14 saves), who knows Montpellier from his time at HBC Nantes.
We are happy with our victory, I know from personal experience that it is difficult to win here. We were solid in defence, and we were able to counter the different ways Montpellier played in both attack and defence.
photos © Patryk Ptak (Kielce), Aleksandar Kotevski (Pelister), Lau Nielsen (GOG), #patriciasports (Montpellier)