Big names and high hopes for all twelve teams, but only the tournament winners will clinch their berth in the Group Phase of the VELUX EHF Champions League alongside three wild cards play-offs and one qualification play-off (Halmstad/SWE vs. Esch/LUX). Twelve national champions will fight in three tournaments for three spots for the next stage of the competition on 31 August an 1 September.
The playing system for all tournaments is consistant: on Saturday the semi-finals will be played, the winners face in the final, the losers in the 3/4 placement match. While the winners of those finals qualify for Europe’s premier competition, while the teams in second and third place will continue in the third qualification stage of the EHF Cup and the three fourth ranked teams continue in the second qualification round.
Qualification Group 2 in Presov (SLK):
HC Dinamo Minsk
31 August, 15:30 hrs. local time
HC Dinamo Minsk (BLR) vs. A.E.K. Athens (GRE)
31 August, 18:00 hrs. local time
TATRAN Presov (SLK) vs. Besiktas JK (TUR)
1 September, 15:30 hrs. local time
1 September, 18:00 hrs. local time
Minsk and hosts Presov are the favourites in this tournament. Both have been part of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase before, with Minsk even reaching the last 16 the previous season.
Both sides have new coaches on the bench: Peter Hatalčík takes the Presov hot seat for the fourth time, while Slovenian national team coach Boris Denic is at the helm of the Belarusian champions.
While stars like Vasko Sevaljevic (to Hannover) and Pawel Atman (to Skopje) have left, the list of newcomers to Minsk is long: Dejan Bombac, Uroš Bungalo and David Miklavčič come from Slovenia, Ivan Ninčević from Croatia, Damir Doborac from Bosnia, Mikel Aguirrezabalaga from Spain, and Sergey Shelmenko and Eldar Nasyrov from Russia.
Three Greek internationals and two foreigners, including Montenegrin international Mladen Rakčević, have strengthened the AEK squad.
The winner of this tournament will proceed to Group C of the VELUX EHF Champions League and will face Barcelona, Paris, Vardar Skophe, Thun and the winne of the wild card matches between Metalurg Skopje and Pick Szeged.
Qualification Group 3 in Novi Sad (SRB):
RK Borac m:tel Banja Luka
Alpla HC Hard
HC Motor Zaporozhye
31 August, 17:00 hrs. local time
Borac m:tel Banja Luka (BIH) vs. HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR)
31 August, 19:00 hrs. local time
RK Vojvodina (SRB) vs. Alpla HC Hard (AUT)
1 September, 17:00 hrs. local time
1 September, 19:00 hrs. local time
The tournament in Novi Sad is expected as the closest of all three – and host RK Vojvodina have high hopes for reaching the Group Stage after Belgrade’s dominance of Red Star and Partizan had come to an end in the Serbian league.
But on the other hand, Motor Zaporozhye do not only have a new coach in Sergij Bebshko (arriving from Minsk), but a huge international experience in several European Cup competitions.
In the previous season Motor made it to the Group Stage of the EHF Cup, while the three other teams of this tournament had failed in the qualification rounds.
Three players from Minsk have followed their coach to his new club: Ukrainian line player Alexandr Shevelev, former Motor player and right-handed back court Vladislav Ostroushko and Russian left winger Oleg Skopintsev.
Another Motor newcomer is line player of Belarusian national team, and recent Challenge Cup winner with SKA Minsk, Alexandr Titov.
Vojvodina’s club director Darko Jevtić has respect for his Austrian opponent from Hard – especially as his club had failed already once in 2007 (after becoming Serbian champion for the first time) against another Austrian club in EHF Champions League qualification: Bregenz.
Banja Luka have lost some important players, who went abroad, leaving Motor as the favourites in this semi-final.
The winner of this tournament will proceed to Group A of the VELUX EHF Champions League and will face Veszprem, Zagreb, St. Petersburg, Rhein Neckar Löwen and Celje.
Qualification Group 4 in Porto (POR)
FC Porto Vitalis
Elverum Handball Herrer
31 August, 14:00 hrs. local time
HCM Constanta (ROU) vs. HV KRAS/Volendam (NED)
31 August, 16:30 hrs. local time
FC Porto Vitalis (POR) vs. Elverum Handball Herrer (NOR)
1 September, 14:00 hrs. local time
1 September, 16:30 hrs. local time
The biggest name in this tournament is a new player in Porto. After Atlético Madrid had closed their handball section, Spanish wing player David Davis continued to play, now for tournament host FC Porto Vitalis.
His new team will face one of the big surprises of the last EHF Cup season, the Norwegian champions from Elverum, who had made it to the group stage and for the new season they have strengthened their squad with the Spanish born Swedish citizen Nacor Medina Perez.
The big favourite for this tournament are the constant participants of the group phase, HCM Constanta from Romania. The Romanians had clearly made their way from qualification last season – and they face the Dutch underdog from Volendam in their semi-final.
The winner of this tournament will proceed to Group B of the VELUX EHF Champions League and will face Kiel, Kielce, Kolding, Dunkerque and the winne of the wild card matches between Montpellier and Plock.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor