Löwen start their European season in Minsk
Usually in mid-November Rhein-Neckar Löwen have already played more than a handful of matches in Europe. This season, however, the German side is only about to start its international adventure.
Having not qualified for the VELUX EHF Champions League, where they reached at least the Last 16 in each of the past six seasons, Rhein-Neckar Löwen are competing in the Men’s EHF Cup.
They are obviously among the favourites for the tournament, which they enter this weekend in round 3, the last round prior to the group phase. Löwen will travel to Belarus to take on SKA Minsk on Sunday at 15:30 CET (live on ehfTV.com), with the return leg scheduled for Wednesday in Germany.
The 16 teams for the group phase are going to be found over the next two weekends. There are no double-headers, so all 16 ties start with the first leg on Saturday or Sunday, followed by the return leg next week.
Four Bundesliga teams enter the competition
Apart from Löwen, three more German Bundesliga teams are entering the competition this weekend: last season’s finalists Füchse Berlin (against HK Malmö from Sweden), three-time champions SC Magdeburg (NMC Górnik Zabrze from Poland) and MT Melsungen (Olympiacos SFP from Greece).
Other big names in the competition include two teams with a recent Champions League history: RK Gorenje Velenje and HC Metalurg. Only one of them will make it to the group phase as they are playing each other in round 3, with the first leg in Slovenia on Saturday at 20:00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
Another former Champions League participant made it to the AKQUINET EHF Cup Finals last season - TTH Holstebro. Their road to another finals appearance starts against Czech champions Talent M.A.T. Plzen. The first match takes place in Czech Republic on Sunday at 13.00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
Three Hungarian teams playing at home
USAM Nimes Gard are debutants in Europe this season. The French side faces a trip to Hungary to meet Csugói KK, who were in the group phase six years ago, on Saturday at 15:00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
Elsewhere in Hungary, Balatonfüredi KK receive former Champions League side Abanca Ademar Leon and they throw off on Sunday 13.00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
Another Hungarian team, Grundfos Tatabánya KC, were in the quarter-final last season and they are also playing at home, against ZTR Zaporozhye of Ukraine, on Sunday at 15.00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
Liberbank Cuenca reached the group phase in their maiden European campaign last season, while ALPLA HC Hard pulled a surprise be defeating Skjern Handbold in the previous round. This Spanish-Austrian meeting takes place on Sunday at 12.00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
Throwing off their 12th consecutive EHF Cup season, RK Nexe from Croatia are aiming for the group phase again like last season. They will have to overcome SL Benfica from Portugal, who eliminated another Croatian team, RK Dubrava, in the previous round.
Nexe and Benfica meet for the first leg in Nasice on Saturday at 18.00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).
Finally, there are two national derbies taking place: in France Chambéry Savoie Mont Blanc Handball and PAUC Handball go head to head, while in Poland KPR Gwardia Opole and KS Azoty-Pulawy SA will battle it out for a group phase berth; their first match is Sunday evening at 19.00 CET (live on ehfTV.com).Author: Peter Bruun / ew