Round 12 of the VELUX EHF Champions League had it all – drama, unexpected twists, suspense, demonstration of power, and reward for the most daring.
But first, the most unexpected outcome: A classic performance from experienced Bjerringbro-Silkeborg goalkeeper Soren Rasmussen denied THW Kiel at Sparkassen Arena, giving BSV a big boost as the final two matches before the Last 16 phase approach.
You shall not pass!
It was a night to remember for valiant Danish side BSV, who recorded their first VELUX EHF Champions League victory in four months (132 days, to be exact) on Saturday.
However, it was a night to forget for the German powerhouse, who brought their VELUX EHF Champions League losing streak to two games in a row.
The great THW Kiel struggled to covert possession into goals throughout the 21:24 loss, frustrated by a staggeringly high save rate (55 per cent) from 41-year old veteran in goal, Rasmussen.
This vital win brings the outsiders from Silkeborg back into the race for the Last 16, with six points in the bag – two less than Wisla, who currently occupy the elusive sixth place in Group A.
Following Saturday’s result, three-time champions THW Kiel slid to the fifth, but remain on course to the Last 16. They will now face the daunting task of seeking redemption against Barcelona at home on March 5, and PSG away on March 12.
Moller outmatched Perez de Vargas, but Barca had the last laugh
The reprise of the VELUX EHF Champions League 2013/14 Semi-final saw another goalkeeping masterclass when Barcelona recorded their fourth straight victory against Flensburg since the famous semi-final shock, which ended with Flensburg proceeding all the way and claiming their sole Champions League trophy.
Flensburg goalkeeper Kevin Moller was ready to steal the show at Palau Blaugrana with 21 saves, but his counterpart from Barcelona goal had other plans.
Despite the impressive 46 per cent save ratio from Moller, Gonzalo Perez de Vargas’ commanding presence between the posts was the main reason behind Barcelona’s inspired defensive display. Perez de Vargas tormented Flensburg’s attack with 18 saves, parrying 48 per cent of the shots on Barcelona’s goal.
With the victory, Barcelona remain confidently on top of Group A with 22 points, but feel PSG (20 points) closing in as the final two matches of the group approach.
Pavlovic’s return boosts Zagreb’s Last 16 chances
Zagreb sharpshooter Domagoj Pavlovic was back with a statement performance in their encounter against IFK Kristianstad. Pavlovic was eager to prove his lengthy injury spell is well and truly behind him by masterminding the Croatian team’s 26:23 victory last Saturday.
Pavlovic was playing his best handball when the difficult injury, which ruled him out of the 2016 Olympic Games, struck. However, the rampant left back continued where he left off last year, scoring four goals and having a hand in most of the assists that night.
Due to his efficiency, movement and court vision, including the ability to assume the role of playmaker as well as present the most dangerous goal-scoring threat from both centre and left back, Pavlovic has regained his status as the pivotal figure for Zagreb.
His return significantly boosts their chances ahead of the Last 16-berth fight with Celje, who are equal on seven points, and Kristianstad, on six.
Inspired Vardar the force to be reckoned with
Raul Gonzalez’s men are in excellent form, playing with freedom created by confidence, and their handball seems to be enjoyable for fans and players alike.
With a win against Celje at Jane Sandanski Arena, Vardar climbed back to the top of Group B ahead of rivals Rhein-Neckar Löwen and title defenders Kielce. Considering their remaining group phase fixtures are against Meshkov and Kristianstad, Vardar are odds-on to stay in first place.
Following a series of inspired performances, the early signs suggest the Macedonian powerhouse are determined to make it their season, with a clear ambition to make it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4.
They are first going to have to survive the difficult knock-out matches, but if Vardar can maintain their current levels of physical, tactical and mental preparation, it will become increasingly harder for any side to stop them.