GROUP B REVIEW: Slovenian champions Celje remain in contention for a knock-out stage berth with a magnificent victory against German title holders Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
Celje rekindle Last 16 hopes with impressive win over Löwen
Having stunned defending European club champions KS Vive Tauron Kielce in Round 11, RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko produced another memorable home performance to sink Rhein-Neckar Löwen and keep their hopes of reaching the knock-out stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League alive when Round 13 threw off on Thursday.
• Celje upset Löwen’s chances of topping the group, but keep their Last 16 hopes alive with a six-goal win
• Three Celje players – Borut Mackovsek, Blaz Janc and Miha Zarabec – tally eight goals or more in the high-scoring encounter
• The Slovenian side record their second-ever win out of nine matches against Löwen
RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 37:31 (20:13)
Slovenian title holders Celje made a huge step towards the business end of Europe's premier club competition with a magnificent win over more fancied Rhein-Neckar Löwen on Thursday, emulating the feat of Round 11 when they sank reigning champions Kielce on the home court.
The result lifted Celje’s chances of a Last 16 berth, as they have nine points from 13 games, and put the pressure on Zagreb and Kristianstad in their three-way dogfight to snatch the last available knock-out stage berth.
"This was a match with a lot of very fast handball. We have presented today handball we are capable of," said Celje coach Branko Tamse. "We have to be aware that it was the German champions on the other side, which is why this is even more special. But we are aware that we have to keep on working, nothing will come by itself. We had great support from the fans, who we have to thank for the extra energy they gave, not only today but also through all the season."
Celje fell 4:2 behind in the early stages of the match but never looked back after conjuring a 4:0 run which earned them the lead for good.
Back court ace Borut Masckovek was unstoppable, scoring five first-half goals as the home side pulled away to galvanise their fervent fans, while Luka Zvizej took full advantage of the ample space on his wing and Blaz Janc also produced blistering form in attack.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen, in contrast, looked bereft of ideas in offence and struggled to shore up the leaks in defence, although they fought hard to keep the deficit down and get back into the match.
The German side played catch-up for the entire second half but just could not match the home team's pace or creativity.
Thursday’s outcome also severely dented Rhein-Neckar Löwen's hopes of winning the group and clinching an automatic quarter-final berth, as they slipped up in a match they desperately needed to win in order to keep alive any realistic hopes of finishing in first place.
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cg