Handball excitements have officialy begun with the first matches of EHF Champions League. SEHA – Gazprom League teams make up one third of all participants, which means we have a lot of clashes to follow and even more cheering to do. After the first round of the competition, we are proud to say that SEHA teams have managed a partial success, winning two and losing two, while only Vardar 1961 ended their first 60 minutes of European handball with a draw.
Meshkov Brest faced THW Kiel at home on Wednesday and lost by a three-goal margin (30:33). It is never easy to play against the four-time EHFCL champions, who punish every mistake their opponents make. Meshkov played a very good match offensively thanks to Stas Skube (6 goals, 11 assists) and Stanislav Kasparek (6 goals, 6 assists), but the defense and goalies especially were lacking momentum (Usik 9/32 saves, Matskevich 0/10 saves) which resulted in easy goals for the Bundesliga team. Belarus held only one lead (1:0) and trailed for the majority of this match, mainly because of Niclas Ekberg (11 goals) and Sander Sagosen (6 goals, 12 assists). Hopefully this will change and we will see better displays in the rounds that follow.
Vardar 1961 visited Elverum in search of a surprise win. And it looked like that for a while, when the Skopje-based team went four goals ahead (9:13). However, Norwegians bounced back quickly and ended the first half with a four-goal run (13:13). Unfortunately for 'Red&Black', Elverum continued their good play which immediately separated the two teams (16:13). Even then, they didn't give up, so a return seemed possible. And it finally happened in the closing moments, when Stojanche Stoilov scored the match-tying shot in 59th minute. Besides this important goal, Jeremy Toto (6 goals), Yoel Cuni Morales (5 goals) and Martin Tomovski (14/37 saves) were the most deserving players for this 27:27 draw. On the other side, Sindre Heldal and Dominik Mathe scored 6 each for Elverum.
Last match of this four-match Wednesday was reserved for PPD Zagreb and EHF Final4 finalists – Aalborg Handbold. Zagreb looked like the team we saw in Zadar a couple of weeks earlier when they took the early lead (8:6 in 14th minute). The Danes got theirselves together following an opening slump and started playing more organised on both sides of the court, which put a stop to 'Lions' attempts. Aalborg took over the entire match in 24th minute, seconds after Nielsen scored for a two-goal lead (12:14). Second half looked completely the same as the last 6 minutes of the first. Ivica Obrvan gave young players a chance to face nominally the second team of Europe, but they didn't respond well and sunk before the match was even over, so a 24:34 loss looked realistic. Sebastian Barthold (9 goals from 9 shots) and Mikael Aggefors (17/41 saves) shined in this one, while David Mandic and Luka Lovre Klarica (5 goals each) needed more help from the rest of team in order for Zagreb to stay in this match longer.
Thursday was definitely a better day for SEHA teams, since both got away with wins. Motor Zaporozhye hosted Porto in Ukraine and what a clash that has been. Ukrainians got in the match with a head full of steam and showed dominance right from the throw-off. Their initial lead only got bigger as time passed, which explains the 15:10 score at the half. Second 30 minutes were a bit different, since Gintaras Savukinas probably knew they got their first win in the bag after a 19:13 lead in 36th minute. Therefore, Motor started playing slower than usual, which allowed the Portuguese to get closer. They even tied (27:27) with more than three minutes left until the final buzzer, but Kozakevych, Horiha and Bokhan scored three consecutive goals to end all hopes for Carlos Martingo's squad. Best pivot of SEHA – Gazprom League, Viachaslau Bokhan, showed off his laser-guided shots once again, scoring 8 goals from the same amount of shots, while Gennadiy Komok did his part of the job, saving 14 shots (34%).
SEHA champions, Telekom Veszprem, also had a tough opposition in Paris Saint-Germain, who they haven't beaten in their last six matchups. They played scrappy in the first part of the encounter and were behind by four with 30 minutes left on the clock. That's when Yahia Omar, Mate Lekai, Manuel Strlek and Petar Nenadic jumped in and turned the entire thing around. 'Epitok' trailed until the last ten minutes, when Lekai scored the tying goal (26:26) and showed that PSG is a team which can be beaten. Everything went Veszprem's way after that point. They closed out the match with eight goals in ten minutes and won 34:31. Yahia Omar proved one more time why he was the best right back at last two big tournaments when he scored 6 times and assisted another 4 times in the second half only (10 goals, 6 assists overall). Strlek was the second name of this turnaround win, scoring eight goals. Mikkel Hansen and Luka Karabatic led the way for 'Les Parisiens', with 7 and 5 goals, respecitvely.
Round 2 of EHFCL will see all five teams battling it out, including Vardar and Meshkov who are playing against each other. This is the schedule:
Wednesday, 22 September
MOL-Pick Szeged – PPD Zagreb (18:45 CET)
Vardar 1961 – Meshkov Brest (20:45 CET)
Thursday, 23 September
Barca – Motor Zaporozhye (18:45 CET)
LOMZA Vive Kielce – Telekom Veszprem (18:45 CET)