Debutants Nantes, Kielce and Kiel make it to the quarter-finals
For the first time in their club's history, HBC Nantes have made it to the quarter-final of the EHF Champions League – despite a draw against Meshkov Brest on home ground. Like their former player Dominik Klein (now Nantes), THW Kiel have clinched their berth for the nest stage too, though they lost at Szeged. In the final Last 16 match, Kielce turned an intermediate seven-goal deficit at Löwen into a 36:30 win – but had already been confirmed at the start after winning 41:17 in the first leg.
- Thanks to debutants Nantes, three French clubs are among the best eight teams
- HBC face surprise side Skjern; “Zebras” lock horns with Vardar in the quarter-finals
- For the first time since 2012, no Hungarian side is part of the quarter-finals
- It was a battle of line players in Nantes, as both Nicolas Tournat (6) and Viachaslau Shumak (7) finished top scorers
- For Brest, this is the third time in a row they lose in the Last 16 phase
- Kielce reach an aggregate goal difference of +30 over both matches
MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs THW Kiel (GER) 28:27 (12:13)
For nine years, THW Kiel had not faced Vardar Skopje, now the three-time EHF Champions League winner will duel with the defending champions for a ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne in the 2017/18 quarter-finals.
The 29:22 in the first leg against Szeged was a quite comfortable cushion for Kiel, as they were shaken only in the very beginning (5:2) and in the middle of the second half, when Szeged were ahead by three goals several times.
But finally, the “Zebras” were clever enough to eliminate Pick for the third straight time in the knock-out stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League after the quarter-final 2014/15 and the Last 16 2015/16.
On the other hand, Hungary is not represented by any club in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2012, after Veszprem had been sensationally eliminated by Danish side Skjern on Saturday.
Kiel’s cornerstones were goalkeeper Niklas Landin, who saved 14 shots, and Austrian shooter Nicola Bilyk, who scored the important goals for THW.
But his seven strikes were even topped by line player Patrick Wiencek, who scored nine times.
Top Szeged scorer was Swede Jonas Källman (six goals), who had won two EHF Champions League finals against Kiel with his former club Ciudad Real.
After the 5:2 deficit, Kiel found their rhythm – and when they took the lead for the first time at 7:6, they were back on track.
A rocket from Marko Vujin provided the visitors with 13:12 half-time gap – but then, THW had to withstand some tough moments in the middle of the second half, when Szeged were close to extend their gap to four or more goals.
But Landin’s saves and Bilyk’s goal sealed the ticket to the quarter-final in this crucial period.
Finally Thiagus Petrus secured the victory of the hosts, netting for the final result, while Kiel let the last ball slip from their hands.
After the tie head coach of Szeged, Juan Carlos Pastor, said: "We tried different variations, we took risks with man extra, but we did not succeed. In the end, the only important thing was to win today's match.
"The Champions League has made big steps, there are at least 10 teams who are worthy of the quarter-finals.
"Kiel played very well with the pivot but the match was decided by Landin."
Alfred Gislason, head coach of Kiel also spoke: "I expected a tough match but the excellent performance from Landing gave us strength. I believe we deserved to qualify for next round."
HBC Nantes (FRA) vs HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) 28:28 (14:17)
Despite only drawing at home against Meshkov Brest, HBC Nantes managed to qualify for first ever VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-final, and they will battle against Skjern for a VELUX EHF FINAL4 ticket.
To begin a game being ahead by eight goals is never an easy task. Should you control or play 100 per cent?
Nantes faced exactly this dilemma tonight as Brest proved they wanted to come back early on in the game.
Both defenses faced some problems controlling the opponent lineplayers, which were answering each other's goals. But thanks to an early-time out and some crucial rotations, including the arrival of Romain Lagarde on the court.
With twenty minutes played, Nantes were then ahead by three, 13:10, and could look confidently at the qualification.
But just as they started to play well, Nantes then stopped playing, allowing Brest to come back into the game.
Scoring a 7:1 run in ten minutes, thanks a couple of long distance shots from Siarhei Shylovich, Brest took back the lead and were leading by three at half-time, 17:14.
The advantage even grew to four, as Rade Mijatovic was multiplying saves, while Shumak, on the line was still having his best game of the season.
At 20:16, the Nantes arena was mute and the visitors hadn't left the hope of qualifying aside.
But as time went on and the gap didn't grow, Brest lost a little bit of courage.
And taking advantage of that, the French side came back into the game. A steal there, a save there and some nice Nicolas Claire tricks allowed Nantes to level the score with the end in sight, which was reached by 28:28.
Despite not winning, Nantes centre back Nicolas Claire was of course very happy about the overall result : "Two years ago, we were dreaming about qualification, and now we have qualified for the quarter-finals. Tonight wasn't our best game, but we wanted very much not to lose on home court.
"We managed to come back in the game despite being by four and we are very proud of ourselves."
Meshkov Brest coach Sergej Bebeshko, on the other hand, was disappointed about his third elimination with the club: "We gave everything we could, but sadly that wasn't enough.
"Starting the game with eight goals, the task was too big for us to achieve. Congratulations to Nantes, they played two very good games and they deserve their qualification."
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs PGE Vive Kielce (POL) 30:36 (18:16)
As expected after the first leg, PGE Vive Kielce have reached the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finals for the fourth time after 2012/13, 2014/15 and 2015/16, when they finally took the trophy at Cologne.
On the other hand, Löwen were eliminated in the Last 16 for the fourth straight time – after Szeged, Zagreb and Kiel now by the Polish champions.
Though it was quite clear that Löwen would not be able to level a 24-goal deficit from the first leg (41:17), both sides gave the fans a tough and intense fight from the first to the last minute.
And one man, who returned to where he became World Player of the Year, was in the focus: Kielce’s goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal. First, the 39-year-old veteran between the goal posts, prevented a double-digit deficit for his side, then he became the key to turn the match around.
When Szmal left the court in minute 51 and the score of 29:25 for his side, his mission was completed. In the initial stages, the visitors were simply overran by the Lions, who forged ahead from 6:2 to 16:9 around the 22-minute mark.
Kielce’s coach Talant Dujshebaev was emotional, constantly having verbal battles with his counterpart Nikolaj Jacobsen.
And his side understood, what Dujshebaev wanted them to do, as Kielce managed to reduce the gap to two goals at the break (18:16). From the 24:24 in the middle of the second half on, the match was turned around – and now Kielce hope to continue their quarter-final run: when they made it that far, they made it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 at Cologne.
Thus, their quarter-final opponent Paris Saint-Germain Handball shall be aware.
Top scorers were Andy Schmid (Löwen) by eight goals and Alex Dujshebaev (Kielce) by five.
“It was a strange match for us, we are happy that this is over and we can look ahead on other competitions. We had to replace many injured or ill players, so I am quite satisfied,” said Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen.Author: Björn Pazen & Kevin Domas / bc