Final Four Battle for Europe’s Top Spot
Europe’s best club sides are closing in on the title of 2017 EHL KO16 Club Champions. After a weekend of scintillating action at Eindhoven, Netherlands, over the Easter weekend, the 16 clubs who hailed from Netherlands, France, Poland, Germany, Belgium, England and Ireland were reduced to a final four. The matches that will determine the champions of Europe take place on 3 and 4 June at the home of the Belgium giants KHC Dragons in Brasschaat.
Fighting to be crowned best in Europe will be the home side, KHC Dragons, England’s representative Wimbledon, Real Club de Polo of Spain and HC Oranje-Rood of the Netherlands.
The EHL tournament is a five stage, knockout event that runs throughout the season. Since it replaced the men’s EuroHockey Club Champions Cup in 2007, it has quickly grown to be recognised as the pinnacle of club hockey on the continent. The tournament features 24 clubs from the twelve highest ranked European Hockey Federation member nations.
Round 1 of the Euro Hockey League starts the tournament with a round-robin group stage. The league's 24 clubs are drawn in eight pools of three clubs, and each club in a pool plays the other two clubs in their pool once. The top two clubs in each pool go forward into Round 2. Round 1 is usually played on the second and fourth weekends in October, with matches being played at two venues.
Round 2 (KO16) and Round 3 (KO8/quarter-finals) sees the tournament switch to a straight knock out format. The sixteen clubs that progressed from Round 1 each play one match in Round 2, and the winners of those eight matches each play another match in Round 3 (quarter-finals) to leave just four clubs. Rounds 2 and 3 are played over the Easter long weekend, usually at a single venue.
Round 4 (semi-final) and Round 5 (final, and 3 place playoff) are played in May/June at a single venue.
The 2017 road to KO FINAL4
The sixteen clubs who contested KO16 were: Banbridge HC, Lisnagarvey HC (Ireland), WKS Grunwald Poznan (Poland), KHC Dragons, Royal Racing Club de Bruxelles (Belgium), SV Kampong, HC Oranje-Rood, AH & BC Amsterdam (Netherlands), Atletica Terrassa, Real Club de Polo, Club Egara (Spain), Wimbledon (England), Mannheimer HC, Rot Weiss Koln, UHC Hamburg (Germany), Racing Club de France (France).
In the KO16 round, Ireland’s two representatives were knocked out, Lisnagarvey in a comprehensive 4-1 loss to Atlètic Terrassa, while Banbridge will rue missed chances as they lost on shoot-out to the French team Racing Club de France.
Two of the three Spanish sides made it through to the last eight. Joining Atlètic Terrassa, Real Club de Polo made short shrift of Poznan’s challenge as they hammered six goals past the Polish team, but Club Egara lost out in a close encounter with Mannheimer HC, eventually losing 2-1.
In the remaining fixtures, KHC Dragons won the all-Belgium cutest, beating Racing Club de Bruxelles 2-1, while SV Kampong beat Rot Weiss Koln by the same score. Wimbledon saw off one of the pre-tournament favourites, UHC Hamburg by a 3-1 scoreline and HC Oranje-Rood dispatched Ah&BC Amsterdam in a 3-2 thriller.
Wimbledon v Mannheimer HC
Wimbledon became the first English side to reach the FINAL4 since Reading in 2011 as they beat Mannheimer HC in a shoot-out 5-3 after normal time had ended 2-2. The English side won back-to-back national titles (although they lost this year’s final to Surbiton), and they have now booked their place in the FINAL4, where they will meet Dutch giants Oranje-Rood.
Mannheimer drew first blood, breaking the deadlock when Gonzalo Peillat scored his first goal of the weekend with a low rocket of a corner in the 13th minute. They made the best of the opening quarter but Wimbledon roared back into contention in the second quarter, swapping around the advantage.
Simon Mantell equalised from the penalty spot after Phil Ball’s initial shot hit Patrick Harris’s body en route to the goal – after a video review, it was adjudged to have been going toward goal and not wide as initially thought.
Just a minute later, Phil Roper picked out Ian Sloan on the left of the circle. He worked the ball onto his open side and aimed to cross for the two Wimbledon players waiting at the right post but a Mannheimer defender got their first and he turned the ball in by Jan-Philipp Fischer.
John Kinder almost stole in for an improbable third goal when he almost robbed the ball from around the back of goalkeeper Andreas Spack and they also held on in the closing quarter as Danny Nguyen saved off the line from a Simon Mantell corner flick.
Those saves proved key as Mannheimer fought back and were level at 2-2 with five minutes to go when Jonathan Ehling got on the end of a crash ball from Thomas Prochazka into the circle.
But Wimbledon produced a perfect five from five in the shoot-out before James Bailey kept out Maximilian Neumann in the third round to carry the day.
KHC Dragons v Racing Club de France
A four goal spree in the space of seven minutes in the second quarter saw KHC Dragons ease into the FINAL4 of the Euro Hockey League as they beat Racing Club de France.
This was the French side’s first ever KO8 game and they enjoyed a decent early period, keeping their Belgian opponents at bay. But the resistance only lasted until the 21st minute when Tomas Briels cut loose on the right of the circle and had time to switch to his backhand and shoot home.
Alex Hendrickx added a powerful drag-flick for number two moments later and the game was close to being killed off when Briels and Jeffrey Thys stole the ball and worked an overload with Briels scoring his sixth goal in 17 EHL matches.
Hendricks completed the golden spell to close out the first half at 4-0. Florent van Aubel added a fifth goal in the second half before Racing got some respite with Christophe Peters-Deutz getting one back from a corner of their own.
Real Club de Polo v Rot Weiss Klein
Two first quarter goals earned Rot-Weiss Koln a place in the FINAL4 for just the second time as they edged out Real Club de Polo 2-1.
Christopher Zeller and Marco Miltkau were the men on the mark with close range tip-ins after flowing attacking moves fell their way. Polo got one back in the third quarter via Gonzalo Coll but despite how hard they pushed for a leveller, they could not find another way past Victor Aly.
The result earns the German team a game against KHC Dragons, a repeat of the 2013 classic 4-4 semi-final between the two sides.
Zeller’s goal was his 27th in the EHL, and only three players have scored more. One of these, Miltkau, joined his teammate on the score sheet to double the lead and record his 33rd goal in EHL history.
From there, Polo turned up the heat with Lucas Vila probing the circle and David Alegre a constant driving force. But they found Aly in top form to keep out a string of chances while the corner defence stayed solid for the most part.
Gonzalo Coll did pull one back in the 37th minute when a ball broke his way close in and he cleverly lifted his backhand shot with a checked swing to loop the ball over the goalkeeper.
In the final minutes Polo threw everything into the attack with Alex Casasayas finding space but shooting wide. When Alegre was shown a yellow card, the Spanish side knew the game was up.
HC Oranje-Rood v Atlètic Terrassa
HC Oranje-Rood showed their class to see off Atlètic Terrassa and reach the EHL’s FINAL4 as they, once again, delighted a sold out crowd in Eindhoven to earn their place in Antwerp in June.
Atlètic started the stronger, winning a couple of early penalty corners, both of which were blocked by Pirmin Blaak in the first five minutes.
But, from there, Oranje-Rood began to show their power and they went ahead from a corner of their own which Mink van der Weerden rocketed into the goal in the 13th minute.
They went close numerous times in the second quarter for further goals with Bob de Voogd just missing out from a close range deflection from Agustin Mazzilli’s through pass.
Jelle Galema went near a couple of times, too, but just the single goal remained in the difference at the break. Galema won a corner early in the second half that was mistrapped but the second goal eventually came in the 35th minute from a brilliant team move.
A ball out of defence found Rob van der Horst who beat a couple before picking out Niek van der Schoot. His ball located Bob de Voogd moving left of the circle and, on the run, he unleashed a brilliant shot across Marc Calzada and in off the inside of the post.
From there, Oranje-Rood pulled out plenty of tricks and skills to delight the crowd but no further goals as Bram Huijbregts drew an amazing save from Calzada while de Voogd missed a sitter in the closing seconds.