Promising clashes highlight season opening

Björn Pazen & Kevin Domas

Almost three months after SC Magdeburg were crowned the 2022/23 champions, the Machineseeker EHF Champions League returns to action this week for the start of the new campaign. The group phase throws off with four matches on Wednesday and four on Thursday, including the Match of the Week between HC Zagreb and THW Kiel.

Round 1 of the group phase contains several eye-catching matchups, like the MOTW featuring Zagreb and Kiel, and last season's runners-up KS Kielce vs Aalborg Håndbold in group A, as well as Montpellier HB vs record champions Barça and titleholders Magdeburg vs Telekom Veszprém HC in group B.

In the unchanged competition format for the 2023/24 season, 16 teams in the group phase will battle it out over 14 rounds, with four direct quarter-final spots (for the top-two teams in each group) and eight play-off tickets (for the teams ranked third through sixth) at stake.

All matches will be streamed live on EHFTV though geo-restrictions may apply.


KS Kielce (POL) vs Aalborg Håndbold (DEN)

Wednesday 13 September, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • this confrontation will be the seventh between the two teams in the history of the EHF Champions League
  • Kielce won all of them since 2014, including the last two ones, played last season (28:27 and 34:30)
  • last season, Kielce lost the Truckscout 24 EHF FINAL4 final against Magdeburg, while Aalborg were eliminated by GOG in the play-offs
  • Kielce already won their first four Polish league games, including last weekend’s in Zabrze (36:32)
  • Aalborg were as successful in the Danish league, with three wins in three games, but lost the Danish SuperCup against GOG (32:34)
  • this game should mark the return of Mikkel Hansen to the EHF Champions League after a six-month break due to mental exhaustion
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Landin Quote
We are excited to begin the new season in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League. First step is to get through to the knock-out phase in a very tough group. I do not think anyone else than Kielce will ever be favored to win at their home court. We are a new team with a lot of new players, but if we play concentrated, I really believe we can make the surprise.
Niklas Landin
Goalkeeper, Aalborg Håndbold
20220914 CLM Power Rankings Kielce
They say that names don't matter, but when you play in defence against players like Aalborg Handbold have or when you attack Niklas Landin's goal, it's not an easy task. These are great athletes for whom we have respect. We know that they want to perform better this season than last season.
Talant Dujshebaev
coach, KS Kielce

HB Eurofarm Pelister (MKD) vs Kolstad Handball (NOR)

Wednesday 13 September, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • this game will be Kolstad’s first ever in the EHF Champions League, while Pelister make their return after an 18-year-absence
  • as a consequence, the two teams have never played against each other in European competitions
  • last season, both clubs played the EHF European League. Pelister could not make it past the group phase while Kolstad were eliminated in the Qualification Round 2
  • across the summer, Kolstad signed 2020 EHF Champions League winner Sander Sagosen, as well as Norwegian national players Magnus Rød and Gøran Johannessen
  • Pelister’s summer reinforcements include Khalifa Ghedbane, who won the EHF FINAL4 in 2019 with Vardar, as well as Nejc Cehte and Bogdan Radivojevic
  • Eurofarm have yet to start their schedule in the North Macedonian league while Kolstad qualified for the next round in the Norwegian Cup against Rapp (42:16)
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Jovic Quote
We have analysed a lot of details where we are wrong, and I think we will correct them with the start of the new season in Europe. Eurofarm Pelister will be ready for the challenges. For the best audience and the most handball city in Europe, I will say that we will leave our hearts on the court.
Aleksandar Jovic
Head Coach, HB Eurofarm Pelister

HC Zagreb (CRO) vs THW Kiel (GER)

Thursday 14 September, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • the two teams have already played 14 times in the EHF Champions League before. Kiel won the last five, while Zagreb’s last win dates back to 2016
  • last season, Zagreb were eliminated after the EHF Champions League while Kiel qualified for the competition’s quarter-finals
  • both sides previously won the EHF Champions League: Zagreb in 1992 and 1993 and Kiel in 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2020
  • Zagreb started their Croatian league campaign with a win this weekend against Moslavina (37:21)
  • Kiel won the German Super Cup against Rhein-Neckar Löwen in August before winning three of their five first Bundesliga games. They lost this weekend against Melsungen (30:35)
  • Kiel’s new goalkeeper, Vincent Gérard, will miss his EHF Champions League debuts with his new team du to an injury
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Duvnjakquote
Of course, the opening match in Zagreb is special for me personally because my professional career started there. I have many friends there and I will see some familiar faces in the arena. Nevertheless, it is, of course, the goal that we win there with THW Kiel and get off to a successful start.
Domagoj Duvnjak
Centre back, THW Kiel
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Srna Quote
In the first round we are going to host one of the best teams in Europe but I feel like we have to focus on ourselves in the preparation of this game. What makes me truly happy is the fact we're entering the season with all the players physically and mentally ready for what's coming.
Zvonimir Srna
Left back, HC PPD Zagreb

OTP Bank - PICK Szeged (HUN) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA)

Thursday 14 September, 18:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • out of the eight confrontations between the two teams in the EHF Champions League since 2016, Paris won five, Szeged two and one ended on a draw
  • in the 2022/23 season, Paris reached the Truckscout24 EHF FINAL4 and finished fourth while Szeged were eliminated in the Champions League’s play-offs by Veszprém
  • one player made the move from one team to the other this summer, as Kent Robin Tonnesen joined Paris after playing in Szeged for two seasons
  • Szeged also changed coach over the summer, as Krisztian Karpati took over from Juan Carlos Pastor
  • Paris had the best of start on the domestic stage as they won the French Supercup against Nantes and their first Starligue game against Limoges this weekend (37:27)
  • Szeged also won their first two league games of the season, against Gyongyos (37:28) and in FTC (34:36)


Montpellier HB (FRA) vs Barça (ESP)

Wednesday 13 September, 20:45 CEST, live on EHFTV 

  • the two sides combine for 12 EHF Champions League trophies – 10 for Barça, two for Montpellier
  • the French side is back in the Machineseeker EHF Champions League after playing the European League last season and making it to the EHF Finals in Flensburg, where they were defeated twice
  • Montpellier’s coach Patrice Canayer starts his 30th season at the club – but already announced his retirement at the end of this season
  • Barça right back Melvyn Richardsson won the Champions League with Montpellier in 2018; despite the transfer of Ludovic Fabregas, there are still three French national team players in Barça’s squad: Richardson, new team captain Dika Mem and Timothy N’Guessan
  • Montpellier lost several stars, including Hugo Descat and Julien Bos
  • when they became Champions League winners in 2018, Montpellier eliminated Barça in the Last 16 by an aggregate difference of one goal
  • after winning all matches in the 2022/23 Spanish league season, Barça gave up the first point from their hands already in round 2 with a 26:26 draw against Irun; Montpellier won their opener 38:22 at Chartres

GOG (DEN) vs RK Celje Pivovarna Laško (SLO)

Wednesday 13 September, 20:45 CEST, live on EHFTV

  • GOG’s new coach Ian Marko Fog will have his first international match in this position
  • besides coach Nicolej Krickau, GOG again lost some stars such as Simon Pytlick and Lukas Jørgensen
  • Celje’s top star of the previous season, Aleks Vlah, now plays for a Danish club, GOG’s main rivals Aalborg Handbold
  • in the first qualification round of the EHF European League season 2021/22, GOG eliminated Celje after a 36:25 win on home ground and a 29:33 defeat at Celje
  • while Celje missed the qualification for the play-offs in the 2022/23 season of the EHF Champions League, GOG made it to their first-ever quarter-final of the top flight competition, but then were eliminated by Barça
  • after winning the Danish Super Cup 34:32 against Aalborg, GOG have one win, draw and defeat on their account in the Danish league; Celje lost their first match in the Slovenian league 25:29 against Trimo Trebnje
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Madsen Quote
On a personal level, I had a really good season in the Champions League last year and I would love to finish as top scorer in the tournament again, but of course, the most important thing is that we do well as a team. If we reach the Final4, I can live with scoring a little fewer goals than I did last year.
Emil Wernsdorf Madsen
Right back, GOG
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Toskic Quote
On Saturday we started our home season with a tough loss, so the main goal on Wednesday will be to correct mistakes we made on Saturday on show true fighting spirit. The team is really young, guys still have a lot to learn. I want them to enjoy every minute of the EHF Champions League and gain much-needed experience from the big matches.
Alem Toskić
Head coach, RK Celje Pivovarna Laško

FC Porto (POR) vs Orlen Wisla Plock (POL)

Thursday 14 September, 20:45 CEST, live on EHFTV 

  • thanks to the 28:27 away victory at Porto in the very last round of the 2022/23 group phase, Plock qualified for the play-offs – and later barely missed qualifying for the EHF FINAL4 against Magdeburg in the quarter-finals, while Porto failed to proceed to the knock-out stage
  • Porto have replaced coach Magnus Andersson with Portuguese legend Carlos Resende – and like Plock hope to advance to the knock-out stage
  • Plock have two highly experienced players among their signings: goalkeeper Mirko Allilovic (from Szeged) and playmaker Miha Zarabec (from Kiel)
  • Porto won their second match in the Portuguese league on Sunday 30:21 against Povoa; Plock have won all four games in the Polish league, beating EHF European League participants Glogow 37:24 on Sunday
20230209 WISLA MAGDEBURG 50 X3
Despite the fact that it’s new edition of this competition, teams which are participating in it are on the highest level in the world. We are very motivated and also excited to start the rivalry. At the beginning, we will play against a great team – FC Porto - with new coach and we are expecting a really tough game.
Xavier Sabate
head coach, Orlen Wisla Plock

SC Magdeburg (GER) vs Telekom Veszprém HC (HUN)

Thursday 14 September, 20:45 CEST, live on EHFTV 

  • in the last season, Magdeburg took a draw at Veszprém and beat the Hungarian side on home ground to finish second and skip the play-offs
  • the pairing was the EHF Champions League final in 2002, when Magdeburg took their first trophy before winning the title again 21 years later
  • SCM have to replace their Icelandic EHF FINAL4 MVP Gisli Kristjansson after a shoulder surgery
  • former Swedish GOG teammates Felix Claar (Magdeburg) and Lukas Sandell (Veszprém) will duel in this match
  • Magdeburg have won three of their four Bundesliga matches by now, defeated by European League winners Füchse Berlin, but beat Hamburg on Sunday 35:24, while Veszprém have three wins from three matches on their account, including the 31:24 victory at Tatabanya last weekend
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Wiegert Quote
The triumph in Cologne was terrific and historic for us, but that was last season. A new chance starts on Thursday. And what more can you wish for as a handball fan than a home game against a top team like Veszprém for the opener?
Bennet Wiegert
Coach, SC Magdeburg
20230911 CLM Rd 1 Preview Corrales Quote
We will have our chances because our squad is also good. Champions League matches are always tight, so we need a solid defence, especially in one-against-one situations. We have to use the chances in attack as we know that Portner is in great shape. To sum it up, we have to show our best against Magdeburg.
Rodrigo Corrales
Goalkeeper, Telekom Veszprém HC

photos © Franziska Gora/Jan Hübner

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