Euro Hockey League Final Four: Preview, Part 1.

April and the KO16 and KO8 stages seem like a long time ago, but at last, this weekend sees the Final Four of the Euro Hockey League at Bloemendaal in Holland. The Top of the D runs the rule over the four teams vying for the title. First up, Rot Weiss Köln and KHC Dragons, who meet in the first semi-final.

Rot Weiss Köln.

Results in EHL 2012/2013:

Round 1 (Pool H) vs. Glynhill Hotel Kelburne W: 8-1
R1 (Pool H) vs. AHTC Wien W: 12-1
KO16 vs. Royal Leopold W: 3-2
KO8 vs. HTC Uhlenhorst Mülheim W: 3-2 (AET)

The German powerhouses have made this stage for the first time in their history having flattered to deceive in previous years. A team bursting at the seams with international talent scored a glut of goals in the group stage including a devastating display in front of goal against AHTC Wien where they plundered 12 goals over the 70 minutes.

In the KO16 they overcame a determined Royal Leopold side with a 3-2 win courtesy of goals from Marco Miltkau, Tibor Weissenborn and Christopher Zeller. Their KO8 match was packed with drama as they snatched a 74th minute silver goal to overcome domestic rivals Uhlenhorst Mülheim who had twice led through Jan Philipp Rabente and Thilo Stralkowski. Köln’s goals came from Jan-Marc Montag, Christopher Zeller and Benjamin Wess, who scored the vital winning goal; moments later Phillip Zeller was shown the red card, meaning he will miss the semi-final through suspension.

Köln’s potency in front of goal is not in any doubt; Marco Miltkau is the competition’s second top scorer with 6 goals whilst Christopher Zeller and Jan-Marco Montag both have 5 goals. A record of played four, won four, scored 26 conceded 6 speaks for itself. The difference this time out is that the German outfit seem to have added a resilience they were lacking in previous years, evidenced in their displays against Royal Leopold and Uhlenhorst Mülheim. This could be the year their talent finally captures the Euro Hockey League.

ZellerKey Players:

Christopher Zeller is an obvious game-changer for the German side. He is a ruthless goal machine with a knack of scoring important goals at important times. His ability from penalty corners is a potent weapon and could easily be the difference in a tight game.

Marco Miltkau’s goalscoring exploits have been a key component of his side’s march to the semi-finals. Five of his six goals have come from open play and he will surely be a threat this weekend as he seeks to overhaul KHC Dragons’ Loick Luypaert at the top of the scorers’ charts and fire his team to the title.

KHC Dragons.

Results in EHL 2012/2013:

R1 (Pool B) vs. St Germain W: 2-1
R1 (Pool B) vs. Reading HC W: 2-1
KO16 vs. Lisnagarvey HC W: 7-2
KO8 vs. Reading HC W: 5-1

Dragons’ extraordinary love affair with this competition continues this season. Last season’s bronze medallists may have seen Waterloo Ducks take the domestic title, but KHC are flying the flag for Belgian hockey in the EHL.

Having topped arguably the toughest pool in round one with impressive wins over St Germain and Reading, Eric Verboom’s side swept aside Lisnagarvey in the KO16 with four goals from EHL top scorer Loick Luypaert. Their 5-1 victory over old rivals Reading in KO8 was one of the most impressive displays in the tournament so far. They overcame their opponents with some flowing, skilful, quick, attacking play, which has become their trademark.

The Belgian National side is on an upward trajectory at the moment and Dragons supply a number of players to that squad. It is not difficult to see why they are a force to be reckoned with, given their array of talented international stars, including Luypaert, Florent Van Aubel, Matthew Cobbaert, Felix Denayer, Jeffrey Thys and of course star goalkeeper Manu Leroy.

Dragons have all the talent and quality to overcome any opponent. Can they better their efforts last season and reach the final this time out?

Manu LeroyKey Players:

In Loick Luypaert KHC have the competition’s top goal scorer, with five goals from penalty corners and two from penalty strokes the 21-year-old’s set piece skills are crucial to the Dragons’ chances. Their attacking style means they are likely to win a number of corners; Luypaert’s ability to convert these could be the difference between another bronze and a place in the final.

Given the firepower of semi-final opponents Rot Weiss Köln, and in particular the penalty corner threat posed by Christopher Zeller, Manu Leroy in goal will be pivotal in this clash. Leroy is a fantastic goalkeeper with excellent agility and the ability to pull off saves like this one. Make no mistake, the Dragons number one has a big role to play.

This first semi-final promises to be an enthralling battle between two teams with some wonderful attacking players in their line-ups. Both teams are capable of scoring plenty of goals, but in Max Weinhold and Manu Leroy both teams have fine goalkeepers. Games like this one are what makes the EHL the competition it is.

For details of the start time of the game and the live stream, log on to the EHL Website.

Part two of The Top of the D’s preview will follow later on today.

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