Champions League Draw Analysis

This past Saturday the draw for the Champions League took place. The EHF Champions League website has the full details and some reactions from the teams,1217 Beyond the typical standard lines from the team officials, here’s my analysis of the draw.

General comments:

The Objective: For each group the top 2 teams will advance out of the Group Phase and into a “Sweet 16” home and away aggregate knock out competition. Advancing out of the Group Phase is, of course, the first goal. The second goal is to finish first in your group, and thus avoid the other group winners in the round of 16.

The Top and Bottom Halves- Two Distinct Tiers: Last year the top two performance rows for the Champions League went a perfect 16 for 16 to advance out of the Group Phase. While this hasn’t always there is a definite trend established. Additionally, no team from Germany or Spain has ever failed to advance.

The Impact of German and Spanish Dominance:

The top row of teams does not represent the best 8 teams. As the German and Spanish leagues are the best leagues in the world, their 2nd and 3rd place teams are often better than the Champion from France, Denmark, Hungary, Slovenia, and Croatia. This isn’t always true (Montpellier and Celje have won titles), but it is usually true. As a result of this inequity, some groups have a top half which is significantly better than some of the other groups. Both of the strong teams, of course, will advance, but the 2nd place team will be a tough round of 16 match up for a first place group finisher. Conversely, it’s also possible that 2 of the weaker teams can end up meeting each other.

The Impact of Player Transfers: Originally, I took a look at the groups and assessed them based on last year’s results. However, when I compare my original assessment with the odds at some of the teams that played decently last year in Group play are given virtually no chance of advancing. It’s pretty tough to follow all the club teams in the myriad national leagues, but the logical explanation is that these teams that did well last year have lost some key players to richer clubs.

Odds in parentheses are to win the Champions League as of 31 July 2006 (courtesy of

Group A:
HUN MKB Veszprém KC (20-1)
ESP Portland San Antonio (11-1)
SVK MSK Povazska Bystrica (1000-1)
BIH RK "Bosna" Sarajevo (1000-1)

As luck would have it, the draw produced a rematch of one of last year’s semifinals. Portland San Antonio and Veszprem will battle it out for first and the Slovakian and Bosnia clubs have little chance of beating either of these two teams

Group B
ESP BM Ciudad Real (2-1)
HUN SC Pick Szeged (100-1)
SUI Kadetten Schaffhausen (1000-1)
NED HV KRAS/Volendam or BLR Brest HC Meshkov

Look for the defending champion to go undefeated in Group play and for Pick to take second place. Kadetten Shaffhausen will put up a good fight on it’s home floor, but is still a long shot to advance.

Group C
DEN KIF Kolding Elite A/S (150-1)
FRA Chambery Savoie HB (33-1)
POL Wisla Plock S.A. (1000-1)
TUR Milli Piyango SK or SRB Crvena Zvezda Beograd (150-1)

Easily the weakest of the 8 groups and according to the odds makers the most evenly matched. Chambery is favored, but I saw them play several times last year and they are not a dominating team only sneaking into the #2 French spot on the last weekend of the year. Jackson Richardson is a legend, but is clearly in the twilight of his career. Kolding, the Danish Champ is shown little respect by the oddsmakers. Perhaps, they were hit hard in the offseason by transfers. Wisla Plock beat Kiel last year, so they should feel confident that they can win their matches at home against Kolding and Chambery. The odds makers give Belgrade the most respect of any 4th tier team. They are likely a young squad full of players looking for a better contract next year. Bottom Line: This Group is wide open.

Group D
CRO RK Zagreb (17-1)
GER Flensburg-Handewitt (8-1)
RUS Chehovskie Medvedi (66-1)
MKD RK Metalurg Skopje or POR ABC de Braga-Andebol SAD (1000-1)

Flensburg and Zagreb should advance, but the Russian squad, which won the lower level Cupwinners Cup last year has a decent shot at placing 2nd.

Group E
GER THW Kiel (5-1)
DEN Svendborg TGI Gudme (150-1)
CZE HC Banik OKD Karvina (150-1)
ROU C.S. HCM Constanta (1000-1) or ITA Pallamano Conversano.IT

Kiel is clearly the big favorite here. With the recent addition of former Montpellier goalie Thierry Omeyer, they now have the 2 best French players on their squad. Will French youth start wearing Kiel jerseys like they wear Tony Parker San Antonio Spur jerseys– Not likely- but at 5-1, I think they are a good bet to win it all. According to the oddsmakers, Danish Svendborg and Czech Karvina will battle for 2nd in this group.

Group F
SLO Celje Pivovarna Lasko (20-1)
GER VfL Gummersbach (20-1)
ISL Fram Reykjavik(1000-1)
LUX H.C. Berchem or NOR Sandefjord TIF(500-1)

Gummersbach and Celje are the clear favorites here. Reykjavik and Sandefjord will battle for 3rd.

Group G
ESP FC Barcelona-Cifec (4-1)
SLO RK Gold Club Kozina (1000-1)
SWE Hammarby IF HB (500-1)
GRE Panellinios AC Athens or CYP SPE Strovolos Nicosia

Barcelona should waltz through this group. The oddsmakers show absolutely no respect to the #2 Slovenian team Kozina. They will battle Swedish champ Hammarby for 2nd place.

Group H
FRA Montpellier HB (17-1)
ESP CBM Valladolid (17-1)
UKR Portovik Yuzhny (1000-1)
AUS A1 Bregenz HB (1000-1) or EST "Viking Malt" Panevezys

Montpellier and Valladolid will battle it out for the top seed. The Ukranian and Austrian Champs will battle it out for 3rd. Last year Bregenz showed they could play spoiler, though, knocking Madgeburg out of first place with a victory on the last weekend.