|22.03.2017, 18:30||◄ last page|
LAST 16 REVIEW: Kiel lose at home by 25:24 against Rhein-Neckar Löwen, but a late charge saw them stay in contention for quarter-final spot
Lions tame the Zebras in narrow first leg victory
For the first time since their 36:33 quarter-final defeat against Barcelona in April 2011, THW Kiel have lost a knock-out home match in the VELUX EHF Champions League. The 25:24 scoreline in the first leg of the Last16 tie against Rhein-Neckar Löwen on Wednesday night means an advantage for the Lions in the re-match with the Zebras, but both coaches agree that nothing is decided yet.
Last 16, first leg
THW Kiel cannot win at home against German teams in this VELUX EHF Champions League season. After the 30:22 in the group phase against Flensburg - Kiel’s biggest home defeat ever in the EHF Champions League - they also lost their first leg match against Rhein-Neckar Löwen on Wednesday.
Thanks to their first EHF Champions League victory at Kiel, Löwen have opened the gate to the quarter-finals after two consecutive Last 16 eliminations against Szeged (2015) and Zagreb (2016).
"You can always be satisfied when you win at Kiel, but the difference could have been bigger as we were ahead by six goals intermediately. In the final stages, Kiel were stronger than us and showed a great fighting spirit," said Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen.
Despite the defeat, Kiel coach Alfred Gislason was quite satisfied too: "We showed morale and never gave up, this is what I am proud of. Löwen deserved to win, but we deserved to be down by only one goal. After too many mistakes in the initial stages of the second half, we made a great comeback."
The base for Kiel was anything but brilliant. Ten days after their 42:24 defeat at Paris, THW had to replace their two top field players - Croatian playmaker Domagoj Duvnjak was suffering from a patella injury, and Danish defensive boss Rene Toft Hansen had adductor problems. Without them, Kiel lacked the ideas in attack and their normal strength in defence.
At 4:3 Kiel had the lead, but then the Lions took control of the match. They took their their first three-goal lead at 9:6, and already in this period two former THW players imprinted their presence on the match - goalkeeper Andreas Palicka, who saved 14 shots, and Icelandic left wing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson. Gislason would praise the Swedish goalkeeper after the match: "Palicka was the key for Löwen.".
With a 12:10 advantage at the break, the visitors had a brilliant run in the first eight minutes of the second half. Netting seven goals from seven attempts they forged ahead to 19:13 but, backed by more than 10,000 spectators, Kiel fought back.
Led by the 20-year-old Austrian left back Nikola Bilyk - as the top scorer with seven goals - the team of Alfred Gislason gained momentum in attack, reducing the margin goal-by-goal. Less than two minutes before the end, after Bilyk’s last strike, they were close to turning the match around at 23:24, but the one goal difference remained until the final buzzer.
For both coaches, nothing is decided before the second leg in Mannheim: "I do not care who is the favourite, or if there is a favourite. Kiel have won so often at Mannheim, and they are used to playing in an arena like ours," Jacobsen said.
The statistics are in favour of the Zebras. Kiel have won 10 of 18 away matches at Löwen, and they won their only away match against a German team in the current VELUX EHF Champions League season - triumphing 26:25 at Flensburg. This result would already be enough for Kiel to make it to their 18th Champions League quarter-final in their history.
TEXT: Björn Pazen / ap