I may have declared myself America’s #1 Team Handball fan, but even I can’t resist the lure of America’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. It’s kind of hard to explain to Europeans, but this tournament is kind of like a knockout National Cup tournament on steroids. Played over 3 successive weekends it totally captures the imagination of the American sporting public unlike any club event in Europe. Everybody fills out a bracket for the 64 teams to compete for bragging rights and/or money. Inevitably a little club or two knocks out a big club rendering predictions futile. It is simply an awesome event, but as much as I’d like to see European Handball adopting something similar I won’t hold my breath waiting for that to happen.
Instead, I’ll make do with watching the Champions League Round of 16 over the next couple of weeks. The 16 teams that advanced out of the Group Stage have been paired off and they will now play a 2 game aggregate goal playoff. The lower seeded teams host the first match and the higher seeded teams host the return leg. A definite advantage as those teams will know how much they need to win by in front of their home crowd.
At the EHF’s webstream platform, ehfTV.com, some of these matches will be available live and all of them should be available for viewing on-demand a day or so after the match is played. As I’m still immersed in the NCAA tournament the on-demand feature is my preference and catching up with the Champions League is great on Mon-Wed when the tournament is dormant.
The EHF has already posted a great summary of the 8 pairings and what to expect, so I’ll simply reiterate that there are two great showdowns (Montpellier-Barcelona and Berlin-Hamburg) worth watching. Normally, this type of matchup wouldn’t appear until the quarterfinals or the final four, but both Montpellier and Hamburg stumbled in Group Play resulting in a 4th place seeding.
In particular, I’m really looking forward to the Berlin – Hamburg showdown. These two sides have already played each other twice this season with Berlin winning 26-25 in Berlin and Hamburg winning 24-23 in Hamburg. With neither side having a realistic shot at catching 1st place Kiel this Champions League double-header takes on extra importance as a trip to the final four in Cologne is one thing they can still hope for this season.
Montpellier – Barcelona could also be interesting. Montpellier is undefeated and 8 points clear of Chambery in the French league, so for all practical purposes continuing on in the Champions League is the only interesting thing left for them to do this season. In Group Play they lost a lot of close games and slipped all the way to 4th place in the Group of Death. One sure indication of what they can do when they play well is their 24-23 victory in Kiel. Barcelona will surely be wary of Karabatic and company.
EHF Preview of the first stage for the round of 16: http://www.ehfcl.com/men/2011-12/article/14682/Prepare+for+the+knockout+stages%21
Tips on watching
To watch the matches without finding out the scores ahead of time, I’ll try and post direct links to the videos below. You can also find the videos with the ehfTV (full matches) link provided. I suggest you use this link instead of going directly to the efhTV home page. I say this because you’ll have a better chance of not finding out the final score of the match. Despite countless pleas for a different webpage design the EHF still likes to post all kinds of videos and smiling player interviews tend to reveal the outcome of matches. Even with the direct links to the actual matches, though, you would be wise to either have a sheet of paper available to kind of glaze over your eyes as there are annoying links at both to the top and right hand side to these sorts of videos. Once you start the video and click full screen, though, you are safe from harm.
With 16 matches you probably won’t have time to watch them all. Accordingly, I suggest you focus on the Berlin-Hamburg and Montpellier-Barca showdowns.
On paper, some of the other pairings should be one-sided affairs. For instance, I’m guessing that Kiel had little problem with Wisla Plock, but I could be wrong. So just in case, I’ll check out that match using the sliding bar at the bottom to check the score throughout the match to make sure that Kiel didn’t unexpectedly stumble in the first leg. I’ll do the same thing for Madrid and Copenhagen as well.
The other 3 matches (Leon-Veszprem, Kielce-Koper, Metalurg-Zagreb) should be more evenly matched, but I don’t think these teams are strong final four contenders. I’ll probably skim through these matches as well, just in the interest of time. I will say, though, that it’s usually entertaining to see the enthusiastic crowd at Macedonia’s Metalurg.
One final point: Make sure you write down the scores of the first leg matches, so you’ll know what that means in terms of aggregate for the final match. Also, keep in mind that the 2nd tiebreaker is away goals scored, as it wouldn’t surprise me at all if this doesn’t come into play in at least one of these pairings.
ehfTV (Full Matches): http://www.ehftv.com/ehfcl/men/2012/search/video/full-match/ (use this link to avoid final outcomes)
1 vs. 4 Seed Matches
Berlin vs. HSV Hamburg
Montpellier vs. FC Barcelona
Wisla Plock vs THW Kiel
(14.03.2012) Video: http://www.ehftv.com/ehfcl/ec/cl/men/2011-12/video/002244
Kadetten Schaffhausen vs. BM Atletico Madrid
(15.03.2012) Video: http://www.ehftv.com/ehfcl/ec/cl/men/2011-12/video/002259
2 vs. 3 Seed Matches
Leon vs Veszprém
Kielce vs RK Cimos Koper
HC Metalurg vs. Zagreb
IK Sävehof vs. AG Kobenhavn
THN (17 Mar 2010): EHF Champions League Format: More tinkering needed. Why not a field of 64?: http://teamhandballnews.com/2010/03/ehf-champions-league-format-more-tinkering-needed-why-not-a-field-of-64/