GROUP B REVIEW: HC PPD Zagreb celebrated only their second VELUX EHF Champions League win of the season after a majestic second-half performance against strong favourites Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
Superb Zagreb stun Löwen to keep alive last 16 hopes
Europe’s premier club competition produced yet another classic, as Croatian title holders Zagreb enjoyed a memorable 25:21 victory over Rhein-Neckar Löwen after fantastic defending in the second half enabled them to turn the match on its head.
Zagreb kept alive their round of 16 hopes with an unlikely win
Löwen went scoreless for 12 minutes as Zagreb turned the tide
Veteran pivot Igor Vori shone for the home side with five goals
Reserve goalkeeper Matevz Skok pulled of a string of saves
Winger Dejan Manaskov led Löwen with five goals
HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 25:21 (10:15)
Zagreb kept alive their hopes of reaching the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 with an astonishing home win against Rhein-Neckar Löwen after they overturned a five-goal first half deficit with an ironclad defence in the second period.
It was no more than Zagreb deserved in a performance reminiscent of their glory days when the Croatian giants were a force to be reckoned with in Europe.
Roaring Lions surge ahead
The game’s early stages took a fairly predictably course as Zagreb held their own for as long as they could, wiping out a 4:2 deficit to draw level at 5:5, trying to match their more heralded rivals in every department.
However, Mannheim’s Lions poached on their prey with a 5:0 run, as wingers Dejan Manaskov and Marius Steinhauser used space on their respective flanks to devastating effect.
A series of Zagreb turnovers presented the visitors with a barrage of fast breaks and they took full advantage, with the home crowd braced for another painful defeat that would have left the Croatian side with only a forlorn hope of reaching the last 16.
A brief revival saw Zagreb slash the deficit to 12:10, but the German outfit stepped up a gear in the closing stages of the first half, although they missed a chance to take a six-goal lead when Zagreb’s reserve goalkeeper Matevz Skok kept out Andre Schmid’s penalty.
Zagreb produce miraculous twist
That save by the Slovenian goalkeeper, who replaced Ivan Stevanovic late in the opening period, turned out to be a pivotal point in the rip-roaring contest.
Zagreb switched their 6-0 defence to an aggressive 5-1 and with Löwen enduring a 12-minute scoreless run, the home side turned the match on its head – having drawn level at 15:15 before a 6:2 run gave them a 21:17 lead heading into the home straight.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen offence came to a screeching halt as the inspired Skok saved one shot after another, while the goals kept raining in from all angles at the other end.
Veteran line player Igor Vori, who spent much of his illustrious club career in Germany, ran the show and his team mated responded superbly as the galvanised home crowd got behind their team.
First home win for Zagreb versus Löwen
The visitors launched one last attempt to force a final twist as they cut the deficit to 21:20, but two successive goals by Luka Sebetic and another by Vori sealed Zagreb’s win – their first-ever at home against Rhein-Neckar Löwen and only their second in 10 meetings with the German champions.
The victory will long live in the memory of Zagreb fans while it may also prove to be crucial in the team’s quest to reach the last 16.
With the defeat, Rhein-Neckar Löwen missed a chance to go top of group B after an almost surreal second-half collapse in the Zagreb Arena.
Statements after the match:
Silvio Ivandija, HC PPD Zagreb coach:
“In the first part of the match we experienced quite a lot of problems with their 7 on 6 attacking option but in the second half we've delivered an amazing performance both in attack and defence.
“Having this many players in a good mood makes a lot of things easier of for us, especially keeping the rhythm on a high level and when we have the rhythm so high we can play against anyone.”
Matevz Skok, PPD Zagreb goalkeeper:
“I have to say I'm really happy about this victory. For the first time since my arrival [at the club] I feel like I've given something to this team.
“We've showed a fighting spirit and big heart, not giving up even after being five goals down. In the end we got a well-deserved win with an amazing defence in the second half.”
Nikolaj Jacobsen, Rhein-Neckar Löwen coach:
“It was two completely different halves; the first 30 was great for us as we were able to keep our game running with tough defence and a great goalie but all that was unfortunately for us missing in the second half.
“Skok was on the other side amazing for Zagreb, and they delivered an amazing defensive performance in the second half to get a deserved victory.”
Dejan Manaskov, Rhein-Neckar Löwen player:
“In the first half we've managed to reach +5 but in the beginning of the second we've lost it too fast.
“The guys from Zagreb were playing great in the second 30 and we simply weren't able to adapt to it.”
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / amc