Lucky Veszprém in the Last 16Article
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MATCH REVIEW: Hungarian side gain narrow victory against Celje, while Barcelona remain unbeaten and Rhein Neckar Löwen make a huge step towards the knock-out stage.

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Lucky Veszprém in the Last 16

After Round 6 of the VELUX EHF Champions League’s Group Phase only two teams remain unbeaten: MKB-MVM Veszprém and FC Barcelona. While Veszprém took their sixth victory on Saturday evening and are the first team to clinch their berth for the Last 16, Barcelona have eleven points on their account. Both VELUX EHF FINAL4 contenders still top their groups.

Rhein Neckar Löwen beat Zagreb for the second time, just like Paris did against Wacker Thun, while Velenje took revenge against La Rioja.

Group A:

HC Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO) vs. Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 24:28 (13:12)

By turning the match in the second half, Rhein Neckar Löwen took their fourth straight victory and remain the only hunter of group leaders Veszprem.

The first half was totally different from the match one week ago in Germany. Zagreb were stronger in defence and transitionsed well into attack, allowing them to scoring easy counter attack goals. Löwen were patiently waiting for chances to score. They were leading most of the time before the break, mainly thanks to goalkeeper Niklas Landin. Hopes of a surprise remained for the hosts, trailing by only one goal.

The second half was marked by two great runs, one for each side. Zagreb flew out of the traps in the second half and scored five straight goals, prompting a Löwen time-out. Coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson woke his players up, and they went on a decisive 6:1 run, with wing players Uwe Gensheimer and Patrick Groetzki running the show.

In the final stages, Löwen were stronger and had more rotation options. Stepančić and Matulić both scored six times for Zagreb, while goalkeeper Filip Ivić had 12 saves. On the other side Gensheimer was the top scorer with six.

“The match was harder than expected”, said Gudmundur Gudmundsson,

“In the first half we were simply too slow, caused too many technical mistakes and had bad shooting percentage. After a weak start in the second half we managed to take control, which finally meant a highly important victory for us,“ added Gudmundsson.

On the other side Zagreb coach Boris Dvoršek was satisfied with the improvement of his team compared to the first leg: “We were much more aggressive and better than in the away game. Löwen simply have too many players and we were not able to do anything in the end. We will rise in future.”

MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN) vs. Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) 27:26 (13:10)

The end game was thrilling, but then the favourite cheated the gallows against a strong team from Celje. Veszprém are now the only team with the maximum 12 points from six matches and are the first team to reach the Last 16.

The Hungarian side overran the Slovenians in the initial period, leading by 8:2. Then Celje improved, but still had problems in scoring until minute 20, when Veszprém were already ahead11:4. The advance melted until the halftime whistle to only three goals, as the Celje defence had now adapted to the Hungarian attack.

In the middle of the second half the match turned completely. Veszprém lost their rhythm and Celje reduced the gap from 16:20 to 20:21 and even took the lead for the first time at 23:22. A major sensation was in the air - before a double strike from Iváncsik and Ugalde turned the tide again. At 27:24 the winner seemed to be confirmed, but by scoring the last two goals Celje caused the hosts to sweat in the dying minutes before they held out for the two points.

Top scorers were Iváncsik (Veszprém), Marguc and Zelenovic (both Celje) with six goals each. The Slovenians remain on four points equal with Zagreb but are already three points below Zaporozhye.

Group C:

FC Barcelona (ESP) vs. HC Dinamo Minsk (BLR) 35:25 (13:9)

A sense of deja vu for FC Barcelona and Dinamo Minsk, as they had played out exactly the same result as the first leg a week earlier. The victory at lunch time was the perfect start for the celebrations of the 70th anniversary of the handball section of the multi-sport club. After the fourth win with a distance of ten or more goals in their sixth match, leaders Barca only need one more point from the four remaining games to clinch their berth in the Last 16.

After goalkeeper Danijel Saric shut up his shop in the initial ten minutes, the Catalans raced ahead 3:0. However, Minsk got into the game and were neck and neck until the score of 9:8 in favour for the hosts, before Barcelona accelerated, taking a four goal advantage to the dressing rooms.

Barca coach Xavi Pascual found the right words in the half-time break and his players now fully controlled the match, leaving Minsk 22:14 down, thanks to Siarhei Rutenka, who was the top scorer with seven goals against his country-fellows.

At 26:16 the lead was in double-figures for the first time. Minsk intermediately managed to reduce the gap again, but in the end there was only going to be one winner and the 35:25 scoreline matched that of the reverse fixture in Minsk. The best Dinamo scorer was Maxim Babichev with five goals. Minsk remain on four points and in fifth position, meaning they will be scrapping for a Last 16 spot in the remaining four rounds.

PSG Handball (FRA) vs. Wacker Thun (SUI) 38:24 (22:11)

For 24 hours and until the Skopje derby of Metalurg vs. Vardar is over on Sunday, PSG handball lie in second place in Group C after their second clear win against bottom ranked Wacker Thun. With seven points in their account the French champions are currently one point ahead of the Macedonian duo.

The match was imprinted by some brilliant Luc Abalo and Marko Kopljar goals and the fact that the deal had been sealed before the break. An eleven goal advance was the result of the first 30 minutes, leading PSG to rotate their team without losing any quality.

The top scorers were Abalo, Fehrudin Melic and Igor Vori with six goals each for Paris, while Markus Hüsser and Fabian Studer scored five times each for Wacker, still waiting for the first point in the competition.

Group D:

RK Gorenje Velenje (SLO) vs. ESP Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) 33:28 (15:14)

After four straight defeats, Gorenje Velenje are back on track by beating La Rioja by a five goal margin. The win also gives the Slovenian champions the head to head advantage over La Rioja, which might be highly decisive if both teams finish on equal points in the end. Currently both teams have four points on their account and are set to fight for the fourth position and qualification for the Last 16.

Twelve goals from Luis Felipe Jimenez (including seven in the first 17 minutes) were not enough for the Spaniards to take a point from Velenje.

The host were leading throughout the first half, but mostly by only one or two goals. They could not cast off La Rioja, as their defence did not stand strong enough.

However, everything changed in the first eleven minutes of the second half, when Velenje clearly took control and forged ahead to a 23:16 lead. La Rioja tried everything including taking two time-outs, but they did not manage to get closer than three goals intermediately. In the end the five goal advance might be priceless for the Slovenians, who were lead by Senjanin Buric with six goals and Sebastian Skube's five.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor