Five knockout spots still open before one-to-last round
After the first eight rounds of the EHF European League Men group phase, 11 teams have secured their Last 16 spots. With the group phase going into round 9 on Tuesday, seven teams are still in the race for the last five tickets.
In group A, three teams have already booked their ticket for the Last 16, but the three others can still hope for a successful fate. Benfica may lead the pack, but they might still need to take a point against Kadetten, while Presov and Veszprém depend on results from other teams: they both need a win and must hope that Benfica do not.
The top two sides in group B clash with the first place on the line, but there are also crucial games for a Last 16 berth, with PAUC Handball hoping to break a four-game losing streak in a desperate challenge to progress in the competition.
Group C have all four Last 16 participants confirmed and only the final ranking is in question. While for Nexe, Sporting and Granollers everything is still open, Skjern will finish fourth for sure if they lose.
In group D, Bidasoa Irun and Eurofarm Pelister can both book their tickets for the Last16 – but from a different starting point: Irun only need a point against last-ranked HC Motor, while Pelister need to win at unbeaten group winners Füchse Berlin.
- Presov are currently fifth in the group with four points, while Göppingen are second with 12
- the Slovakian side was the first one to beat Montpellier in the European League this season last week (35:27)
- while Göppingen are already through to the Last 16, they can still hope to finish first in the group
- Presov still have a chance after round 9 if they win on Tuesday while Veszprém also take the points and Benfica lose
- last weekend, Göppingen were defeated in Hannover-Burgdorf in the Bundesliga (24:28), as were Presov in the Czech league, in Strakonice (28:30)
I expect a very difficult match. I hope that we will be able to stick with them as long as possible and that it will not be clear-cut from the beginning, as it was in the first game. They overpowered us at home in the first half and it was very bad. Only when they substituted younger players did we have any chance. So it will be very difficult in defence.
- after eight rounds, Benfica are fourth in the group with six points while Kadetten are third, with 10
- Schaffhausen have already booked their ticket for the Last 16 while Benfica could follow them if they win on Tuesday
- Kadetten won the first confrontation between the two sides this season (26:25), thanks to a last-second goal by Odinn Thor Rikhardsson
- Benfica’s best scorer, Petar Djordjic, has netted 50 times so far in the European League this season while Rikhardsson has scored 46 for Schaffhausen
- last weekend, Benfica took the points in the Portuguese league against Santo Tirso (32:17), Kadetten beat Kreuzlingen (34:21) in the Swiss league
Kadetten Schaffhausen are a very complicated team that play very well and have a lot of depth in the rotation. We have to win at home to secure fourth place and not depend on third parties in the last match. Benfiquistas are important in every match. They mean two or three more goals in a match. In the most difficult games, as this one will be, the support is very important for us.
Montpellier HB (FRA) vs Fejer B.A.L. Veszprém (HUN)
Tuesday 21 February, 20:45 CET, live on EHFTV
- Montpellier lead the group after eight rounds with 14 points, while Veszprém are last, with two
- Montpellier are already through to the Last 16, but might have to wait until the last round and a final game against Göppingen to secure their first spot
- Veszprém, on the other hand, will be out if they do not win in Montpellier
- Montpellier only lost one European game this season, last week in Presov (25:34), while Veszprém only won one, against Presov in round 5 (30:28)
- with 285 goals taken, Veszprém are the least efficient defence in the competition, while Montpellier are the second-best offence, with 271 goals scored
- Montpellier remain leaders of the French league after their 26:25 win against Nîmes last weekend, Veszprém also took the points in the Hungarian league on Saturday, against Budakalasz (32:24)
SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs Ystads IF HF (SWE)
Tuesday 21 February, 18:45 CET, live on EHFTV
- Flensburg will seal the first place in the group if they do not lose against Ystad, the only team they lost against in the first eight rounds
- Ystad, who have a six-game unbeaten streak in the competition, are riding a three-game winning streak coming into the match against Flensburg
- the two sides have excellent attacking prowess, with Flensburg scoring the third-largest number of goals in the competition so far, 271, while Ystad are down in seventh place, with 260 goals
- Ystad goalkeeper Niklas Kraft has the largest number of saves in the group phase, 102, nine more than any other goalkeeper
- Franz Semper and Lasse Møller will be back after injuries, but the MVP of the EHF EURO 2022, Jim Gottfridsson, is still out for Flensburg, missing the chance to face his former team
- the third loss in a row for Benidorm would see the Spanish side out of contention for a Last 16 place, as they have won only twice in eight matches
- seen as an outsider after the first batch of games, FTC stayed unbeaten for two games in a row and have a chance to progress to the next phase
- Benidorm do not have a strong form on their home court, losing three games in a row before finally breaking their duck against PAUC Handball last December
- Benidorm’s French centre back Jules Jose Lignieres is the top assists provider in the group phase, with 41, eight more than any other player in the competition
- FTC, who conceded a competition-leading 34.75 goals per game, lost to Benidorm in the first match between the two sides, 32:33; a loss Tuesday would see their chances to progress dwindle
Now we go from match to match, and the biggest question is how we solve this task mentally, but based on the last two weeks I am optimistic. It will be difficult because they use the seven-on-six game very well, it’s hard to play against them.
- PAUC Handball are the only side in the competition to have lost their last four matches, with an average losing margin of three goals per game
- last week, Valur broke their own five-game winless run to take a 32:29 win against Benidorm and will progress to the Last 16 phase with a win against PAUC
- a loss would virtually see PAUC in dire straits in terms of mounting a challenge to progress to the next phase, as their fate would be out of their hands
- PAUC have won only two games out of their last 10 in all competitions, with their run of form threatening all objectives
- a single side, Fejer B.A.L.-Veszprém, has a worse shooting efficiency than PAUC Handball’s 56.2 per cent between the 24 teams in the group phase
Fraikin BM. Granollers (ESP) vs Skjern Håndbold (DEN)
Tuesday 21 February, 18:45 CET, live on EHFTV
- both sides already secured the Last 16 spot; Skjern seek a win to leapfrog Granollers and get their revenge for a 29:32 defeat in round 4
- if Skjern lose, they will seal their fourth place in group
- the Spanish outfit want to return to the winning path after a seven-goal loss against Sporting
- Granollers have scored 254 goals in eight matches – 31.75 on average; Skjern's Christoffer Hoffmann Bonde has 88 saves for a 34.78 per cent efficiency after eight rounds
- Granollers wait for Skjern after losing to Ciudad de Logroño 29:32; Skjern played the final weekend of the Danish cup, beating Ribe-Esbjerg in the semi but losing to GOG (29:34) in the final
This is a decisive match against Skjern to avoid fourth place, because the crossover would be very complicated. We have two defeats in a row and the team is particularly hurt and wants to reverse this situation.
- Balatonfüred cannot advance anymore but seek their third win of the season; Sporting want to stay close to group leaders Nexe before their direct duel next week
- Martim Costa is third on the top scorers list with 54 goals, and a 68.4 per cent efficiency; Balatonfüred's Stevan Sretenovic is only five goals behind
- the younger Costa brother, Francisco, is the third-best assists provider with 31; he also scored 48 goals as the Costa brothers produced 40 per cent of all Sporting goals this season
- the Hungarian club conceded the same number of goals as Sporting scored in eight matches of the group phase: 253
- Balatonfüred were successful against Gyöngyös in the domestic league; Sporting remain top in Portugal after beating Madeira Andebol 30:26
After we get the qualification, our goal is to stay best ranked possible. All away games are tough, Balatonfüredi KSE have a very strong defence; in attack we have to play fast but one of the most important aspects is to be great in defence.
- Nexe look to extend their winning streak and remain the group leader while Hard will try to take their first win of the season
- Hard could not keep up with Nexe in their first encounter of the season, suffering a 24:35 defeat
- the Croatian side is the most efficient team in the group: on average, they score 31.87 goals and concede fewer than 28
- Nexe are playing their best EHF European League Men group phase: after five wins and five defeats in two previous editions, they won seven and suffered only one loss this season
- Nexe played two consecutive matches against Dubrava in the Croatian cup and domestic championship, winning both; Hard celebrated a narrow win over Graz and are currently third in Austria
We are playing at home and I think we have to be at a high level, given that we have a very important match ahead of us. After a long time we will be complete which is a very good thing for all of us, the rhythm of the matches is very fierce so we need all available players.
Nexe are the top team in our group with seven wins in eight games. We have to travel to Croatia with a very small squad and we know that it will be a very difficult task and tough game. But we will continue to look ahead.
- Bidasoa advance to the Last 16 with at least a draw; however, they would also advance with a defeat as long as Aguas Santas do not win at Skanderborg
- Motor need to win both remaining matches to remain in the race for the knockout stage, having only three points on their account
- Irun won the first duel against Motor 26:22 despite being down 9:12 at the break, but have lost both group matches so far in 2023
- Motor left back Ihor Turchenko is the best scorer of the European League with 65 goals
- Bidasoa consolidated their sixth position in the Spanish league with a 38:30 win against Torrelavega; Motor had no game in Germany’s second league
We have one step left to qualify mathematically, we have to take it, and for that we have to go to Dusseldorf thinking about winning. HC Motor are a team that is getting better and they are competing better.
Skanderborg-Aarhus (DEN) vs Aguas Santas Milaneza (POR)
Tuesday 21 February, 20:45 CET, live on EHFTV
- Skanderborg-Aarhus have already confirmed their second position by winning their last match 33:30 against HC Motor
- Aguas Santas are still unbeaten in 2023: after winning 28:25 against Irun, they took a 27:27 draw at Bitola and still can qualify for the Last 16 if they win both remaining matches
- the Danish side had an easy-going job to do in the first duel, winning 34:25 in Portugal
- having scored only 203 times in eight matches, Aguas Santas have the weakest attack of all 24 teams
- while Aguas Santas beat Belenenses 25:23 to remain on the fourth rank of the Portuguese league, Skanderborg-Aarhus did not have a match last weekend
- Füchse are already confirmed as group winners after winning all eight matches, while Eurofarm Pelister are struggling to get their Last 16 ticket
- last week, the Bitola-based team lost a point at home against Aguas Santas, ranking fourth but only two points ahead of the Portuguese side
- the first duel was Füchse’s biggest victory of this season so far, winning 43:34 at Bitola
- Füchse right wing Hans Lindberg, who scored his 1,000th European goal against Irun, has broken his hand and will probably not play again this season; Füchse have hired Austrian Robert Weber as a replacement
- Füchse lead the German Bundesliga and won their most recent match 29:25 against Wetzlar; Pelister won 27:25 against Alkaloid in the Macedonian league on Sunday
photos courtesy of Edu Ágreda, Ivan Ćosić
We don’t give away any win, even if we are already qualified for the round of 16. Wins are very important for our self confidence, this is why we want to get the next one tomorrow.