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23.02.2017, 14:30◄ last page     

NEWS FEATURE: Beating Brest 25:24 was their fourth one-goal group phase win in Frankfurt; coach Jacobsen expects final decision next week.

Löwen continue their one-goal strategy and dream of two free weekends

German side Rhein-Neckar Löwen haven't been blowing their opponents away but find themselves momentarily at the top of Group B in the VELUX EHF Champions League.

When a club have a goal difference of minus two after five matches, the resulting points tally is normally not good - but not in the case of the Rhein-Neckar Löwen. Five of their six home matches of the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase (all except the 28:25 victory against defending champions Kielce), were played took place in Frankfurt not in their more familiar SAP Arena in Mannheim.

They lost once by six goals (33:27 against Skopje), and the four times they won the did so with a narrow one-goal margin, like on Wednesday against Brest. The 25:24 win against the Belarusian champions propelled Löwen to the top of Group B - at least until Vardar have duel with Celje on Saturday, the German side are one point ahead of the Macedonians as it stands.

“It is really crazy to play here. I don’t know why we cannot show our top level, when we play in Frankfurt,” said Löwen team captain Andy Schmid, who scored the decisive and last goal. “In the end, we have two points, and that’s what counts,” coach Nikolaj Jacobsen said with a smile.

Having the away match in Celje and the home match against Szeged (of course in Frankfurt) still ahead, Löwen definitely will finish among the top four of this group. Being the current group leader makes them calculate, how far they could come: “We do not have our fate in our own hands, but to finish on top and thus to skip the Last 16 would be a great result. Mainly as then we would have two free weekends to recover,” said Löwen right wing Patrick Groetzki, adding: “If we fail to win the group, definitely the unnecessary defeat in Zagreb was the reason.”

Groetzki - like currently injured left back Kim Ekdahl du Rietz - have another reason, why a straight route to the quarter-final would be perfect: “In the previous two seasons, we were eliminated in the Last 16 by Szeged and Zagreb. If we win the group, this cannot happen again,” said the Swedish back court player. “And being among the best eight teams would also tremendously increase our hopes to make it to Cologne - this is, what every player dreams of,” continued Ekdahl du Rietz.

Club manager Jennifer Kettermann shares the hopes, but remains realistic too: “It is a long way to finish on top. Even if we win both remaining matches, we are not through. But in terms of the tough schedule two free weekends would be worth gold.”

Coach Jacobsen expects the upcoming Round 13 to be crucial for the final ranking: “For me, Vardar are still the favourites for the top spot. They have the tough encounter in Brest ahead, where it is anything but easy to win, we have to play in Celje, where we were beaten badly two years ago. Those games will decide our future.”

TEXT: Björn Pazen / bc

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