The Fakers Guide to the EHF Champions League 201415

To celebrate the return of the biggest handball club competition this week we present a guide to this season’s Champions League, the key actors and stories. Most games will be broadcast freely on www.ehftv.com.Main storyline: German clubs have won the competition in each of the last three seasons, including an all-Bundesliga final in 2013/14. At the same time, Eastern Europe is strengthening its challenge in the form of Hungarian champions Veszprém, Polish champions Vive Tauron Kielce, and Macedonian twins HC Metalurg and HC Vardar. Which trend will prevail in 2014/15?Favourite: THW Kiel Biggest rival: BarcelonaOutside bet for the title: Paris Saint-GermainMy Final4 forecast: THW Kiel, Barcelona, Veszprém, Paris Saint-GermainSeven players to watch:Arpad Sterbik Capar (goalkeeper, HC Vardar)Rene Toft-Hansen (pivot, THW Kiel)Uwe Gensheimer (left wing, Rhein-Neckar Lӧwen)Siarhei Rutenka (left back, Barcelona)Jim Gottfridsson (playmaker, Flensburg-Handewitt)Laszlo Nagy (right back, Veszprém)Luc Abalo (right wing, Paris Saint-Germain)Five unmissable group ties:HC Metalurg – Paris Saint-Germain (28/9/2014 in Macedonia, 26-30/11/2014 in France), Metalurg’s home win last season confirmed that it is ‘for real’ and that things might not go so smoothly for the French “super team”Veszprém – Rhein-Neckar Lӧwen (4/10/2014 in Hungary, 3-6/12/2014 in Germany), A repeat of last season’s group stage clashes, which were decided by a total of one goal in favour of Veszprém HCVardar – Rhein-Neckar Lӧwen (12/10/2014 in Macedonia, 18-22/2/2015 in Germany), The rematch in Germany on the last day of the group stage is likely to decide the battle for second place in group CFlensburg-Handewitt – Barcelona (12-16/11/2014 in Germany, 19-23/11/2014 in Spain), A repeat of their incredible semi-final from last season (highlights: http://www.laola1.tv/en-int/video/condensed-fc-barcelona-sg-flensburg-handewitt/191143.html)Paris Saint-Germain – THW Kiel (12-16/11/2014 in France, 19-23/11/2014 in Germany), Legendary goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer faces the team he won three Champions League titles withFInal standings of the groups:Group A 1. THW Kiel – With arguably the most star-studded backcourt in the history of the game, the challenge for coach Alfred Gislason will be how to keep Filip Jicha, Domagoj Duvnjak and co. all happy at the same time2. Paris Saint-Germain – After last season’s massive disappointment, expectations are somewhat downgraded for the richest club in the world, despite the addition of French Olympic champions Thierry Omeyer, William Accambray, Xavier Barachet3. HC Metalurg – The Macedonian champions will rely on the best home court advantage in the competition as they target a third quarter-final appearance in a row4. Naturhouse La Rioja – Spain’s second team added experienced players in the hope of improving on last season’s fifth place finish in the group stage5. Meshkov Brest – Back in the group stage for the first time in seven years, the Belorussian champions added a number of Balkan players with Champions League experience in the hope of being competitive 6. HC Zagreb – The eternal Croatian champions can draw on their country’s best young players, but a lack of pedigree will likely count against them in a tough groupGroup B 1. Barcelona – Having been shockingly defeated in the last two Final4s, coach Xavi Pascual and his star-studded team are running out of excuses2. Flensburg-Handewitt – The defending champions lost a couple of key experienced players and replaced them with youth, but would you count against Ljubomir Vranjes’ team after last season’s miracle run?3. KIF Kolding Kobenhavn – Experience is the name of the game for the Danish champions, who will be targeting a place in the quarter-finals at least4. Orlen Wisla Plock – Plock keeps losing games and key players to domestic rival Kielce but should comfortably make it out of the group stage5. Alingsas – Sweden’s new champions rely entirely on domestic players and do not appear to have the quality to compete with the continent’s top teams6. Besiktas Mogaz – Somewhat of a surprise qualifier, the Turkish champions are here mainly to gain experienceGroup C 1. Veszprém – The Hungarian champions have added a number of world-class players to an already strong squad, and will be looking to build on last year’s Final4 appearance and go all the way this time2. Rhein-Neckar Lӧwen – The Lions have focused on quality by letting a large number of players leave and replacing them with a small selection of newcomers headed by Danish goalscorer Mads Mensah Larsen3. HC Vardar – Having narrowly missed out on a place in the Final4, Vardar brought in experienced players and will be expecting to do better than last year4. Montpellier Agglomeration – Having lost its dominant position in France following a betting scandal in 2012, this current Montpellier team is a couple of steps below the top European sides5. Chekhovskie Medvedi – Russia’s eternal champions return after a one-year absence caused by financial hardship6. Celje Pivovarna Lasko – Having lost virtually every key player from last season’s team, the record Slovenian champions have been done no favours by being placed in a tough groupGroup D 1. Vive Tauron Kielce – Talant Dujshebaev’s reign in charge of the Polish champions started with the team crashing out of the Champions League last season, but expectations remain high for a Final4 run in the legendary coach’s first full season in charge2. Pick Szeged – Strong additions and an easy group should encourage the reigning EHF Cup winners that they can make a run at least to the quarter-finals3. Aalborg – Having lost two of its star young players to the German league, Aalborg would be happy with just making it to the second round4. Dunkerque Grand Littoral – France’s shock champions have been handed a favourable group and must improve on their last-place finish in 2013/145. Motor Zaporozhye – A run to the second round last year shows that you should not underestimate the Ukrainian champions, but a repeat may not be on the cards6. Kadetten Schaffhausen – Swiss champions Kadetten are back after a year absence and would be looking to sneak into the second roundTEXT: BEN SHAFRAN EHF Champions LeagueFaker’s guideThe Faker’s Guide to the EHF Champions League 2014/15 ← Previous Story “IT IS ENOUGH”: Leganger ends career! Next Story → TOP 20 TRANSFERS IN WOMEN’S HANDBALL: Bulatovic and Penezic the names of summer 2014!