One week before the starting gun for the 2016/17 DKB Handball Bundesliga season, the first round of the DHB Cup is ready to get rolling as well. As was the case last year, the tournament will be run in a Final Four mode. MT Melsungen was drawn into Pot 8 of Group South, together with newly promoted 2nd Bundesliga squad SG Leutershausen, TV 1893 Neuhausen (2nd Bundesliga) and HSG Rodgau Nieder-Roden of the 3rd Bundesliga. Satursday match will take place at the TV Neuhausen's Hofbühlhalle at 3 pm with the MT taking on Leutershausen. The TV and HSG will square off at 6 pm. The winners of these two semi-final matches will then face off on Sunday at 4 pm in the same venue, with the winners headed to the quarter-finals. The interesting aspect of the MT's pairing against SG Leutershausen: the side from Bergsträßer features Uli Roth, twin brother of MT coach Michael Roth, as the Athletics Director. Both are looking forward to a friendly family duel.
"It really is an amusing coincidence. All the more so because the SG was our home-town club. With that said, it's not really a point of friction for us like some in the media are reporting. The match is being held on neutral ground, after all", says Michael Roth. The MT coach is willing to reveal this much: "Uli and I ring each other up all the time and talk about every possible topic. In recent days the Cup duel has certainly been front and centre. There's been more than a little bit of teasing and boasting on both sides". For his part, brother Uli says: "For Leutershausen it's a dream draw. For one, the family feud gives it a good story line. But even more importantly, our match against the MT will serve as a real measuring stick for how we're prepared for the new season".
Unlike last year, when the MT effortlessly pushed by ThSV Eisenach and 3rd Bundesliga side Heilbronn-Horkheim in Eisenach, Michael Roth sees this first round Final Four as having some tricky bits: "Even so, it would be a great big shock if we don't pass through to the second round this weekend. In these matches we have to live up to our strength and greater experience as a Bundesliga club, and understand that more or less we're the only ones who can stop ourselves. We will under no circumstances underestimate Leutershausen, because ultimately we need a victory to be able to play again the next day. The bigger goal of course, as always in this competition, is to pass on to the 'real' Final Four in Hamburg".
If the MT wins against Leutershausen, they would then square off against the TV 1893 Neuhausen on Sunday. Last season the TV earned a respectable 12th place finish out of 21 teams in the 2nd Bundesliga. The MT is familiar with the club. The team from Swabia played in the Bundesliga during the 2012/13 season, losing both times clearly to the MT. Back then the leg in Neuhausen was played not in the Hofbühlhalle, but rather in Tübingen's Paul Horn Arena, which seats an extra 1,000 fans.
Last season the MT failed on the last stage before the final round in a make-up match against Rhien-Neckar Löwen. In its history, the club has made the Final Four three times — 1996, 2013 and 2014.Yet there's more at stake for the MT this weekend than just a 400 kilometre trip to southern Germany. With keeper Johan Sjöstrand, pivot Marino Maric and backcourt player Gabor Langhans all injured, the team will need to learn to adjust. René Villadsen and newly signed Svetislav Verkic will man the net, the latter having made a strong impression during pre-season training. Maurice Paske can also serve as an emergency third keeper. Felix Danner is expected to handle the majority of the pivot duties. Freshly minted European Junior Champion silver medallist Johannes Golla will step into Marino Maric's shoes. Another young player from the club's youth development teams, Jan Grolla, might also see time at back right to provide relief for Michael Müller.
1st Round of the DHB Cup, Group South, Pot 8:
Sa., 27/8/2016, 3:00 pm, SF1: Leutershausen - MT; Referees: Thiyagarajah/Thiyagarajah (Gummersbach)
Sa., 27/8/2016, 6:00 pm, SF2: Neuhausen - Rodgau Nieder-Roden; Referee Köppl/Regner (Bingen)
So., 28/8/2016, 4:00 pm, Finale: Winner SF 1 - Winner SF 2; Referee: Thiyagarajah/Thiyagarajah
Venue: Hofbühlhalle Neuhausen/Erms, Wolfgrubstraße 28, 72555 Metzingen-Neuhausen
Archive Photo: A year ago they were still opponents vying for the Cup, this year they're teammates: Johannes Sellin, here in a duel with then-Eisenacher Svetislav Verkic, who was recently signed by the MT as a backup keeper