|28.09.2016, 21:50||◄ last page|
GROUP B REVIEW: German champions, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, needed a last-minute comeback against underdogs, Celje, to register their first VELUX EHF Champions League win of the season.
Lions edge out brave Celje in see-saw battle
The Rhein-Neckar Löwen had to dig deep into their resources for a dramatic 31:30 home win over Slovenian rivals, RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko, in their captivating Group B clash in Frankfurt.
Backcourt pillars Kim Ekdahl du Rietz and Miha Zarabec shone for their respective teams, as the Lions threw away a five-goal lead and then bounced back from three down to come out on top.
The German title holders must have expected an easier home ride against less-herald Celje, but they survived an almighty scare before grinding out a slender win, thanks to an inspired performance from their left back, Kim Ekdahl du Rietz.
The towering Swede drilled in the winning goal, his seventh of the game from just 10 shots, to rescue the Mannheim Lions. His team was rattled by a determined Celje side as much as by a perilous strategy from their coach, Nicolai Jacobsen.
Risk greater than reward
The illustrious Danish coach often ordered his troops to attack with seven players at the expense of benching the goalkeeper and too many times the risk proved to be greater than the reward.
Celje’s goalkeeper, Ivan Gajic, scored three goals into an empty net and his team mates were just as ruthless in punishing the Löwen’s turnovers, with the goal gaping wide open.
Inspired by a last-gasp equaliser that he scored in a 28:28 draw at Szeged in the opening round, du Rietz followed up with a majestic performance, which saw the home team maintain the upper hand in the opening 40 minutes.
They repelled several Celje fightbacks to carry a solid 23:19 lead into the last third of the contest, still with the impression that the Löwen were not in top gear.
Du Rietz meets his match
However, the versatile and talented Miha Zarabec matched du Rietz in every department. Zarabec scored seven goals for Celje, while he also dictated play in attack with incisive passing to open up space on either flank for his teammates.
Zarabec also constructed a spectacular in-flight goal by Blaz Janc, as the centre back found him in mid-air with a perfectly weighed pass, which left the entire RNL defence lost in their tracks.
With Jacobsen’s hazardous approach beginning to bite the Lions even harder by the minute, Celje engineered a surreal 8:1 streak, which turned the match on its head after the home team picked up a double suspension over the coach’s complaints to the officials.
Just when it seemed a huge upset was beckoning, RNL showed their spirit and a form of tenacity worthy of their nickname, as they came roaring back to force the final twist in an absorbing match.
The home side patched up the leaks in defence and continued to attack with their goalkeeper on the bench, as the venture finally paid off.
New signing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson, who was rested in the first half as Jacobsen reshuffled his starting line-up, scored a pair of lifeline goals to haul his team back on level terms before du Rietz unleashed a ferocious shot, which left Gajic clutching only air.
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic/tm