EHF Champions League group stage has this weekend come to an end. SEHA Gazprom League can be proud of the success its teams have reached so far with Vardar, Telekom Veszprem, Meshkov Brest and PPD Zagreb reaching the next phase.
Vardar have displayed best handball accomplishing the biggest achievement and that was finishing the group B on top spot. In a group with reigning European champions Kielce, German giant Rhein Neckar Löwen, SEHA threats Meshkov and Zagreb it was obviously not easy but Raul Gonzales' boys have managed to pull it off putting jet another jewel into the crown of the season after claiming SEHA regular season top spot. They have with this directly secured a place for themselves in quarter-finals where they will play against better from the duel between Meshkov Brest and German Flensburg. The fact that they and Barcelona are the only teams which have already secured a QF place says pretty much about how good season Macedonians are having so far.
Telekom Veszprem did not manage to do the same thing in group A as Vardar did in group B. European vice-champions were in the first part of the season struggling to find the right rhythm and form and group with European giants like Barcelona, PSG, Flensburg and Kiel it is hard to expect a bigger success in such situation. In quarter-finals they will meet their big both European and SEHA rivals - PPD Zagreb. In case they manage to get through they'll play better from the duel between Montpellier and Kielce.
Meshkov Brest have in their premier season in CL's stronger groups managed to prove why they were this summer given a spot there securing the next phase way before the last round. Bebeshko's team was playing well throughout the whole season which has in the end brought them group B' fifth spot and a duel against Flensburg in quarter-finals. They've this season already proved they can play and beat anyone, especially at home, which means we might be looking at this season's dark horse of the competition. One thing is for sure, each team will have to give its best to knock Belarusians out of the competition.
'Lions' from Croatian capital PPD Zagreb were struggling hard in the first part of the season which was one of the reasons for club leaders to part ways with coach Veselin Vujovic. New coaching choice was Silvio Ivandija who did a great job in post WCh part of the season helping Zagreb get through the group stage in a narrow race against Celje Pivovarna Lasko and Kristianstad. In the next phase they will try to get by well-known opponents, Hungarian hot shots - Telekom Veszprem and if they manage to pull it off they will in QF play better from the duel between Montpellier and Kielce.
Speaking of SEHA teams which did not manage to get through we have to say Celje PL were very close falling one goal short in an impressively tight late run against PPD Zagreb and Kristianstad. In group C Metalurg were left 1 and Tatran Presov only 2 points shy from the second spot leading to C/D playoffs
Interesting thing to add is that two SEHA jewels are sharing the third spot in best scorer race in this season's EHF Champions League - Telekom Veszprem' scoring machine Momir Ilic and Celje PL' young sensation Blaz Janc - both 77 goals. Ilic will obviously have a chance to make a knockout phase run and catch Gabor Csazsar (84) and Uwe Gensheimer (83) once again joining the best scorer battle which would be another amazing accomplishment for 35 year old Serbian national team player.
First leg of the knockout phase will be played March 22-26 and second leg is scheduled for March 29-April 4.
LAST 16 PHASE MATCHUPS:
Nantes - PSG, Montpellier - Kielce, PPD Zagreb - Telekom Veszprem, Silkeborg - PICK Szeged, Meshkov Brest - Flensburg, Kiel - Rhein Neckar Löwen