EHF Champions League: some exciting games but no real surprises in the Round of 16

Could the outsider Metalurg be capable of creating an upset?

Could the outsider Metalurg be capable of creating an upset?

In my recent attempt to offer some predictions for the Round of 16, it seems that, for once, I was able to anticipate rather well how things would evolve. I commented that I did not really expect any major surprises and, as it turned out, in seven of the eight match-ups the highest ranked team came out ahead. In most cases, the aggregate result involved a 5-6 goals edge for the favorites. I had even assumed that perennial champions Kiel might lose in Moscow but that they would still win in total. Kielce also lost in Szeged in the first match, which was Kielce’s first defeat this year, but they managed to turn it around at home.

As expected, the real fight was in the Fuechse Berlin vs. Atletico Madrid pairing. Madrid clearly looked like the strongest of the third-ranked teams, and there was every reason to expect two tough games. Fuechse managed to obtain a 29-29 draw in Madrid, so this looked promising but hardly enough to be sure of a success at home in the return leg. And it really became a dramatic game that was not decided until the final couple of minutes. It was clear that another tie would be enough for Berlin, but Madrid managed to come through in the end and win by 27-26. And the most remarkable thing was perhaps that this result was achieved to a large extent through a fantastic performance by Ivano Balic, who suddenly seemed to be ‘resurrected’.

This now meant that Germany has ‘only’ three teams in the quarterfinal, while Spain has two. In addition we have this year’s strong pair in Kielce and Veszprem, plus Metalurg Skopje as the only remaining representative from the Balkans. Hamburg, Veszprem, Kielce and Barcelona are the seeded teams, so they could not meet each other, but otherwise there were no restrictions for the pairings. It means that we could have a quarterfinal between Barcelona and Madrid, and we could also have a match-up between two German teams.

And following the draw that just took place, the outcome is as follows: Madrid-Barcelona, Metalurg-Kielce, Kiel-Veszprem and Flensburg-Hamburg. So, we will indeed have a Spanish derby, something that will surely inspire Madrid to try to get another victory. The two ‘burgs’ will have an unpredictable fight, although I suspect that advantage of playing at home in the second match will be useful for Hamburg. Kielce will need to show top form to avoid being surprised. But the real ‘thriller’ among the quarter-finals would seem to be the Kiel-Veszprem encounter. In the group play, Veszprem prevailed narrowly at home, while Kiel won easily on their home court, but this was at the late stage where the placements had already been determined. We should have some nice games to look forward to in the weeks April 17-21 and 24-28.