The Faker's Guide to the VELUX EHF Champions League 2013/14 | Handball Planet
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The Faker’s Guide to the VELUX EHF Champions League 2013/14

The biggest handball club competition is about to throw off and this year’s edition promises to be the most intriguing in a while. Below is a quick-fire guide for the uninitiated. Most games will be broadcast freely on

Main storyline: One superpower (Atletico Madrid) has collapsed and at the same time a new one has emerged in Qatari-backed PSG. Clubs from Eastern Europe are also re-emerging as dominant forces in the game, with Hunargy’s Veszprém, Poland’s Kielce and newly-minted Macedonian champions Vardar at the forefront.

Favourite: Barcelona
Biggest rival: THW Kiel
Outside bet for the title: Flensburg-Handewitt
My Final4 forecast: Barcelona, Vive Targi Kielce, Veszprém, Rhein-Neckar Löwen

Seven players to watch:
Niklas Landin Jacobsen (goalkeeper, Rhein-Neckar Löwen)
Igor Vori (pivot, PSG)
Cristian Ugalde Garcia (left wing, Veszprém)
Filip Jicha (left back, THW Kiel)
Domagoj Duvnjak (playmaker, HSV Hamburg)
Kiril Lazarov (right back, Barcelona)
Ivan Čupić (right wing, Vive Targi Kielce)

Five unmissable group ties:
Veszprém – Rhein-Neckar Löwen (10/10/2013 in Hungary, 5-9/2/2014 in Germany), these two look to be head and shoulders above the rest of Group A
Vive Targi Kielce – THW Kiel (16-20/10/2013 in Poland, 12-16/2/2014 in Germany), Kielce was the surprise winner of their third place play-off last year and may be the overall favourite in Group B
PSG – Barcelona (16-20/10/2013 in France, 12-16/2/2014 in Spain), handball latest superpower battles the sport’s most successful club of all time
Metalurg Skopje – Vardar Skopje (16/11/2013 and 20-24/11/2013), Macedonia’s top two will be facing each other more often than Real Madrid and Barcelona do in football, and these two clashes a week apart are likely to determine who makes it out of Group C and in what order
HSV Hamburg – Flensburg-Hanewitt (13-17/11/2013 in Hamburg, 20-24/11/2013 in Flensburg), the favourites in Group D clash in a repeat of last season’s quarter-final tie

Every team in a sentence (in my predicted order of finish in each group):
Group A
1. Veszprém – New additions to the squad, headed by left back Momir Illic, are intended to ensure that there is no repeat of last year’s disappointing failure to make it to the Final4
2. Rhein-Neckar Löwen – The Lions have an excellent track record in Europe, including winning last year’s EHF Cup, and will be targeting a place in the Final4
3. Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb – The team is young and entirely home-grown, so a place in the second round would be a nice achievement
4. Celje Pivovarna Lasko – The former Champions League winners would be happy with a place in the second round after losing young star Borut Mačkovšek to the lure of the German league
5. Motor Zaporozhye – Simply making it through the qualifying round was a nice result for the Ukrainian champions
6. St. Petersburg – Russia’s sole representative this year, following the financial collapse of eternal champions Chehovski Medvedi, would have their best chance to get out of the group stage after failure to do so in the past three seasons

Group B
1. Vive Targi Kielce – Having added the best attacking pivot in the game and the star of Spain’s World Championship win, Julen Aguinagalde, the Polish champions will want to at least match last year’s success and qualify to the Final4
2. THW Kiel – Almost unrecognisable from the side that won the Champions League just two years ago, but despite a major squad overhaul handball’s most dominant team over the past decade is expecting nothing less than another Final4 appearance
3. KIF Kolding Kobenhavn – The Danish champions are loaded with experience and would be targeting at least a quarter-finals berth
4. Orlen Wisla Plock – Having shocked (former) French powerhouse Montpelier in the wild card round, Poland’s runners-up would be confident that they could at the very least make it out of the group stage
5. Dunkerque – A tough draw does no favours to the surprise second place finishers in the French league in their quest to make it out of the group stage
6. Porto – Port’s objective was clear – qualify to the group stage – and everything beyond that would just be icing on the cake

Group C
1. Barcelona – Last year’s losing finalists added two of the best players in the game in playmaker Nikola Karabatic and prolific goalscorer Kiril Lazarov, meaning that anything less than lifting the trophy on 1 June 2014 in Cologne would be tantamount to failure
2. PSG – Led by the last two Player of the Year winners – playmaker Daniel Narcisse and left back Mikkel Hansen – the wealthiest club in the world needs to jell in order to achieve its objective of competing for the European title
3. Vardar Skopje – Russian-backed (and increasingly Russian-staffed), the Macedonian champions will aim to finish ahead of their cross-town rivals and are capable of sneaking into the quarter-finals
4. Metalurg Skopje – Rode a stingy defence and a favourable draw all the way to the quarter-finals last season, but may be happy with just making it out of a tough group this time
5. Dinamo Minsk – Challenge on the domestic front from Meshkov Brest could inhibit the Belarusian champions’ ability to dedicate its attention to the Champions League
6. Wacker Thun – The surprise Swiss champions look to be the most over-matched team in the competition this year and would try not to get embarrassed by their significantly more talented and more experienced rivals

Group D
1. HSV Hamburg – The reigning champions lost pivot Igor Vori – the heart of the team on both defence and attack – to PSG, but strengthened the backcourt and retained enough quality overall for another assault on the Final4
2. Flensburg-Handewitt – The German runners-up are a model of consistency and would relay on their experience to push for a place in the Final4
3. Aalborg – Lost two of their most important players from last year (goalkeeper Johan Sjöstrand to THW Kiel and experienced left back Kristian Kjelling to domestic rivals Bjerringbro-Silkeborg) and will struggle to go beyond the second stage
4. Naturhouse La Rioja – Capitalised on the vacuum created by the financial difficulties of more established Spanish sides to finish third in the domestic league last season, but lack the quality to be real contenders in the Champions League
5. Gorenje Velenje – The Slovenian champions lost virtually every key contributor to a side that impressed in last year’s competition, and are now forced to rebuild from the ground up
6. DROTT Halmstad – Sweden’s champions had an easy route through the qualifying round (only having to beat the representatives from Luxembourg) and are not expected to make a mark in the group stage


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