MT Melsungen of the Handball Bundesliga qualified for a spot in the 2016/17 Europa Cup, its second appearance on the international stage. As last year's fourth place finisher, the North Hesse squad can look forward to some fierce European competition. The club celebrated its first appearance in the Men's EHF Cup back in 2014/15 with a run to the quarter-finals, where it lost narrowly. The starting position is better this time around, with the team only required to start competition in the 3rd round of qualification play instead of the 2nd. Just like defending champion Frisch Auf Göppingen. That 3rd round will be played on 19–20 November 2016 (first leg) and 26–27 November (second leg). The match-ups for the 32 participating teams will be announced on 18 October.
63 teams in all have qualified for the 2016/17 EHF Cup. Füchse Berlin, fifth place finishers in the Bundesliga last season, are also in the mix, as the EHF afforded Germany an extra slot. The team from the capital city will need to compete starting one round earlier than the MT Melsungen, however.
"Based on our strong placement last season in the Bundesliga, we've got the advantage of only needing to win one qualification round. That was confirmed yesterday when the EHF announced the final formalities for the tournament. The third round will nevertheless represent a challenging entry point, given that it will be almost exclusively populated by clubs with international experience. Even so, we're confident that we'll be able to show our talent and move on", said MT Chairman Axel Geerken.
The club from Melsungen needs to prevail in a two-game series (home and away) against a 3rd round opponent to be announced on 18 October. If it can do so, it will punch its ticket to the group phase of the tournament, which stretches over six rounds. That competition, slated to begin in mid-February 2016, will feature 16 teams divided into four groups, also with respective home and away matches. The four group winners and second place teams will then engage in a mid-April quarter-finals, with the winners headed to the Final Four tournament. While the dates of that event are already known (16/17 May 2017), the event site remains tbd.
MT Melsungen isn't looking that far ahead yet. It must first ensure its participation in the group phase. It succeeded in that effort two years ago, besting the French team Fenix Toulouse and Slovakian side Tatran Presov. This time around it needs "only" beat one opponent. The identity of that club will be determined on 18 October. This could well be defending champion Frisch Auf Göppingen or SC Magdeburg, or even Füchse Berlin, if they make it through the second round. Other potential opponents for the MT in this round are the four teams who failed to qualify for the Champions League, as well as Abanca Ademar Leon (ESP), St. Raphael Var Handball (FRA, EHF Cup Quarter-finalist 15/16), Helvetia Anaitasuna (ESP), HC Midjylland (DEN), RD Riko Ribnica (SLO), Grundfos Tatabanya KC (HUN), Azoty-Pulawy (POL), Frainkin BM Granollers (ESP, EHF Cup Finalist 15/16) and GOG (Gudme, DEN).
To see the official tournament rules for the 2016/17 Men's EHF Cup: click here.