The Champions League Quarterfinals started yesterday with Flensburg hosting Montpellier, but I won’t give away the score. For the handball purist this might well be the best two weekends of handball all year. Best in the sense, that the two game aggregate format provides fans with a compelling narrative over the course of two games. Don’t get me wrong, the Final Four is fun and there’s something to be said for a knockout tourney in a festival style setting. But, for the purist the opportunity to see how each side handles the away leg provides an interesting dynamic. As does, how each coach makes adjustments between match 1 and 2.
Oh, and I guess there’s something to be said for the World Championships and European Championship being pretty good too, but I’ll take professional club handball over national team handball. Players that play with each other all season long trumps all star team competitions jammed into a two week period. But, that probably has something to do with being an American. (As if the Basketball World Championships can hold a candle to the NBA Playoffs; Why would one think handball was any different.)
First, for context here are the current odds and opening odds for each team to win the title.
Now a bit on each of the match ups.
Kielce – Paris S-G Sat, 21 Apr 1600 CET On Demand Video:
Paris S-G – Kielce Sat, 28 Apr 1730 CET On Demand Video:
Paris has been on a tear this year in the Champions League, but they’ve had some slips up in the French League which suggests some vulnerability. Meanwhile, Kielce has been less than impressive and were given a free pass to the QF thanks to Rhein-Neckar’s decision to send their 2nd team to play the first leg in the Round of 16. I can’t imagine Paris not making the Final Four. But, then I didn’t think Skjern would knock out Veszpre either.
Kiel – Vardar Sun, 22 Apr 1700 CET On Demand Video:
Vardar – Kiel Sun, 29 Apr 1700 CET On Demand Video:
Defending Champions, Vardar, are the clear favorites here. Still, despite Kiel’s lackluster season one can envision them getting a solid win at home in the first leg. And, by solid they probably need somewhere in the neighborhood of 5-6 goals to have a good chance in the return leg. Further, with their chances in the HBL looking dire for a CL berth next season, maybe this 2 game series is “their season” now. I know this sounds sacrilegious to any German fans, but maybe for once a CL game is more important than an HBL game. And, who knows maybe Kiel could even pull off a Liverpool. (In 2005, Liverpool finished 5th in the EPL, but won the Champions League. Faced with the prospect of the champion not being able to defend their title, they were given an exception to participate the following year.)
Nantes – Skjern Sun, 22 Apr 1900 CET On Demand Video:
Skjern – Nantes Sun 29 Apr 1650 CET On Demand Video:
A really strange pairing here for the right to go to the Final Four. Could anyone have even imagined such a match just 2 years ago? Still neither team is getting any respect as both sides are given the longest odds for winning the title. I can see Skjern’s long odds, but Nantes should be given more credit. I anticipate that they will get a convincing win at home in the first leg and probably will win the 2nd match as well in Denmark. This undersized team plays a quick game that can surprise. Yes, in my opinion, Nantes is the new Flensburg.
For me, the prospect of Flensburg playing Montpellier in a Champions League brings back fond memories of their epic clash in 2005. A 14 goal win by Montpellier in the 1st leg, followed by 13 goal Flensburg in the 2nd leg. And a crazy 9 meter goal with time expired for Montpellier to win on aggregate. The greatest “almost comeback” in the history of sport. (No, not just handball, but in the history of sport).
We can’t expect a similar thriller, but these two teams are evenly matched, but I’ll give the edge to Montpellier. After all, if they took down Barcelona they can surely take down Flensburg,
Coupe de la Ligue in Cologne?
Yes, I’m predicting 3 French teams playing in Cologne with Vardar as the guest wild card entry. Funny, with my planned trip to Cologne for the Final Four it will be my second opportunity to witness a Coupe de la Ligue played outside l’Hexagone. I was in Miami in 2009 for the first French venture to another country. Should be an interesting scene with a French invasion of Germany. Well, at least that’s my prediction anyway.