Zagreb out to repeat last year’s miracle in Veszprém
Thanks to their heroic run through the last minutes of the home match, HC PPD Zagreb are trailing Telekom Veszprém by just one goal before the second leg of their Last 16 clash – though the visitors are in for a rough ride in front of the loudest crowd in the VELUX EHF Champions League.
Veszprém are the favourites to reach the quarter-finals, but Xavi Sabate’s players can’t afford to let their guard down.
• Veszprém made it to the quarter-finals for four straight years and have never lost a game against Zagreb, after winning the first leg 23:22 away.
• The Croatian side made it to the last eight in the two previous seasons.
• PPD Zagreb lost the first leg of their Last 16 clash at home last year but still reached the quarter-finals at the expense of Rhein-Neckar Löwen.
• A tight, defence-dominated match is expected in Veszprém.
LAST 16, SECOND LEG Telekom Veszprém (HUN) vs HC Prvo Plinarsko Drustvo Zagreb (CRO)
Saturday 1 April, 17:30 local time, live on ehfTV.com
Veszprém might have had the first leg under firm control, but it is always dangerous to depend on your goalkeeper as you main man. Without the mesmerising Mirko Alilovic, PPD Zagreb could have had a better chance of repeating their famous 27:23 win over the Hungarian powerhouse in the SEHA League in December.
Defence dominated the first leg and this is not likely to change in Veszprém, which is not a surprise given that both teams finished with the second-least goals conceded in their respective groups.
However, Veszprém do much better at the other end of the court than their visitors, who finished with the fewest goals scored in the entire group phase.
The Hungarian outfit have a much deeper bench so it came as something of a surprise when Zagreb cut the visitors’ lead to one goal in the final 10 minutes of last Saturday’s match. This do-or-die attitude will come in handy in the once impregnable Veszprém Arena, where Sabate’s team already lost twice this season.
The two teams that pulled off wins in Veszprém were Barcelona and PSG – and though Zagreb have excellent players and a proud Champions League record, they are of a different weight class to that of Barca and Paris.
This was exactly what Rhein-Neckar Löwen thought after they won in Zagreb in the same stage of the competition last year, but 20 seconds from the final whistle Dobrivoje Markovic sent the bravely fighting Croats to the quarter-final.
The visitors’ tactics will likely be similar in Veszprém: Keep pace with the home side, never let them settle and make them nervous in crunch time.