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09.02.2017, 22:20◄ last page     

GROUP B REVIEW: Belarusian champions make huge step towards Last 16, while the German side RNL get closer to defending champions

Brest and Löwen turn home advantage into victories

The VELUX EHF Champions League re-started with two home victories on Thursday night. In Group B, Rhein Neckar Löwen beat defending champions Kielce for the second time this season and are now only one point below top spot. In the other game, Meshkov Brest took a close but deserved revenge against Pick Szeged.

Löwen and Szeged are equal on 13 points now, one point below Kielce, who still top the group.

  • For Kielce it was the first time they had been defeated by the same team twice in one season since the 2013/14 group phase, when Kolding Kobenhavn took four points against them

  • Löwen remain unbeaten on home ground against Kielce - it was their third win in five matches, with the other two matches ending in draws

  • Both Spanish coaches - Juan Carlos Pastor (Szeged) and Talant Dujshebaev (Kielce) were defeated.

  • Brest’s Moorchegani Iman Jamali of Hungary was the overall best scorer over both matches, scoring eight goals.

  • Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson scored seven times for Löwen.

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) 28:25 (16:13)

The match plan for both of these contenders for the top position in group B was completely different. Löwen simply relied on their defence and counter attacking strength, while the defending VELUX EHF Champions League champions tried everything to score from the back court position or pass the ball to line player Julen Aguinagalde Akizu. But the Lions were well prepared for this tactic, with Guardiola and Pekeler keeping the Spaniard out of the match in the first half. In the end, Aguinalgalde Akizu would finish with five goals.

Thanks to the counter attacks of Icelandic veteran Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson, mostly profiting off saves from his Swedish goalkeeper Andreas Palicka, Löwen managed to gain an easy four-goal lead at 11:7. The hosts could not cast off their opponents though.

Kielce's play was boosted by the appearance of EURO 2016 All Star Team Member Michal Jurecki, making his first appearance in this season's VELUX EHF Champions League after several injuries. Ninety seconds before the break, the Polish champions were close to equalizing with the score at 13:14, but then Löwen struck back for a three goal half-time advantage. The late goals included a 35-metre strike by Sigurdsson on the final buzzer.

Kielce’s coach Talant Dujshebaev would try to find a way to stop the German champions, but Löwen kept the pedal to the metal. The German side were still playing at full speed in the second half, “conducted” by mastermind Andy Schmid - 12 minutes after the break the margin was already six goals (21:15).

Löwen's clear margin, which stood at 24:18, caused a lack of concentration, and Kielce nearly managed to bridge the gap as they clawed it back to 23:25. A time-out by RNL coach Nikolaj Jacobsen managed halt Löwen's slide though. Sigurdsson scored a penalty, his seventh goal of the game, 55 seconds before the end  to make it 28:24. The second Löwen win against Kielce was secured.

“It felt good to beat Kielce for the second time, this victory means a good base for the rest of the season,” said Löwen coach Jacobsen, who still was not 100 percent satisfied: “In the final minutes we caused an unnecessary tension and excitement. I had hoped that we would play calmer and would not bring Kielce back into the match.”

HC Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) 25:23 (14:14)

Due to Kielce’s defeat, Szeged would have topped the group with a win, but Brest thwarted Pick’s plans by taking revenge for the 22:24 defeat in the first leg of this fixture. Thanks to their fourth win of the campaign, the Belorussian champions increased the gap to Celje in sixth position to six points - and in turn made a huge step towards the Last 16.

After a strong start by Serbian line player Rastko Stojkovic and a well-adapted defence, the hosts led 9:5. That lead melted like the Belorussian snow however, as the the engine of Pick's Swedish left wing Jonas Källman began to defrost. The game was tied at 11:11, and Szeged had regained parity. When Denis Buntic netted to make it 14:13, the Hungarians had even taken the lead again.

But history repeated itself after the break. Again the more powerful Meshkov side had the better period in the middle of the second half, forging ahead to another three-goal advantage at 20:17. It was a Hungarian that eventually powered Brest to victory, as Moorchegani Iman Jamali, who finished with eight goals, netted like a true goal machine, putting enormous pressure on Szeged’s defence.

And again Pick rose like Phoenix, as Brest missed too many chances. When Zsolt Balogh netted a penalty shot to make it 21:22, the momentum seemed to be on Pick’s side. Again Balogh scored for 23:24 with two and a half minutes to go - but his teammates missed two chances to equalize in the following attack. Eventually the last goal would be Szeged’s, as Dzianis Rutenka sealed the deal with the final goal right on the final buzzer. Besides Jamali, goalkeeper Ivan Pesic was a key to success, saving 13 shots.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / ap

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