Zagreb cheat the gallowsArticle
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ROUND REVIEW: Croatians remain in the race for the Last 16, PSG narrowly make it to the next stage, as St. Petersburg take their first ever point of this season.

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

Zagreb cheat the gallows

After the Polish sides Plock and Kielce walked through the gate to the Last 16 on Friday, PSG Paris is team nine (of 16) to qualify for the next stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League thanks to a close win against Metalurg Skopje on Saturday.

While Flensburg easily took both points against Halmstad, group B is fully open again, as Celje (7 points) stumbled at St. Petersburg, where the hosts took their first point of the season, and Zagreb (6 points) beat Zaporoshje (7 points) to be back on track for the knock-out stage.

Group A:

St. Petersburg HC (RUS) vs. Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) 29:29 (16:13)

None of those 24group phase teams is without a single point anymore, as St. Petersburg tied with Celje in their eighth attempt after seven defeats. On the other hand, the Slovenians gave a perfect chance for an early qualification for the Last 16 from their hands after a 27:24 lead in the final stages.

By seven points Celje are still fourth ranked in this group.

After a 3:0 start of the Russian runners-ups, which despite the draw have missed their last chance to proceed to the next stage, Celje caught up at 6:6, but then were trailed to 9:12 and even 11:15 two minutes before the break.

But in the second half the team of Branko Tamse showed more quality in attack, mainly thanks to the in total nine goals of Gasper Marguc. In minute 46 they managed to equalize for the first time again at 23:23, scored by Sebastian Skube.

The match had turned around completely, when the Slovenians forged ahead to 27:24 and seemed to be on the winners’ way, which would have led them directly to the Last 16. But St. Petersburg stroke back for 28:28. When Luka Zvizej netted for the 29:28 30 seconds before the end, the victory again was close, but Grigorj Blagonadeshdin secure the first point for St. Petersburg right before the final whistle. Best scorer of the Russians was Gleb Kalarash by six goals.

HC Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO) vs. HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) 33:27 (16:16)

They danced on the field, they jumped for joy – they hugged their goalkeeper Filip Ivic: RK Zagreb have cheated gallows on an early elimination by a comprehensive victory against Zaporozhye. In contrast, the Ukrainians missed the qualification for the Last 16 – and now might have to shiver until the end, being ahead of Zagreb only by one point and being equal with Celje. On of this quartet will miss the knock-out stage.

“We've played a really good match and in the second half our defence along with Filip Ivic was much better and decided the match,” was the key for success for Zagreb’s coach Boris Dvorsek.

After the close 30:31 defeat in the first leg, Zagreb played completely different on home ground. 13 saves of  Filip Ivic and nine goals of Zagreb’s debutant Josip Sandrk (one more than Zlatko Horvat) paved the way for the Croatian champions against Motor team, which kept up until the middle of the second half.

As the result was levelled at the break, Zaporozhye had their best period in the first 12 minutes of the second  half, forging ahead to 20:18. But then the fighting spirit and the Ivic saves turned the match around. Scoring a 11:6 series until the 29:24 the Croats decided the match and left Motor coach Sergej Bebeshko behind heads hang low. “We've had problems with goalkeeping in the last ten minutes, while Zagreb's goalkeeper had a few brilliant saves in that period, which decided the match. In the end we were in a rush and it led to lack of quality,” Bebeshko said.

When the deal was sealed, Zaporozohye including their top scorer Sergej Onufriyenko (7 goals), surrendered.

Having the last match against St. Petersburg at home, this victory against Motor might by the key for Zagreb to proceed to the Last 16. “We knew that only a win leaves us in race for the Last 16 and that has motivated us for the match,” said Zagreb’s player Mario Vuglac.

Group C:

Wacker Thun (SUI) vs. FC Barcelona (ESP) 23:39 (13:17)

Thanks to their seventh straight victory, FC Barcelona need only one more point from their last two matches against PSG and Metalurg to secure the top spot of this group definitely. Like in the 45:26 record win on home ground, the Catalans left Wacker Thun without a chance. But the Swiss champions stood strong for 30 minutes, trailed only by a four goal deficit after an even equal result at 13:13 after a brilliant period of goalkeeper Winkler.

But after the break Wacker did not have the means to stop the Barca back court aces Kiril Lazarov (7 goals) and Siarhei Rutenka (6). Until the intermediate score of 15:21 Wacker could have been satisfied, but then hell broke lose for the team of coach Martin Rubin.

At 19:29 the result was double-figured for the first time, and as Barcelona still played like a Swiss clockwork the distance were 15 goals at 20:35.

Florian van Deschwanden was best Wacker scorer by five goals.

PSG Handball (FRA) vs. HC Metalurg (MKD) 32:29 (16:12)

Paris did not only make it to the knock-out stage, but made a huge towards finishing on the second position below FC Barcelona by winning today’s top duel in the VELUX EHF Champions League. Being two points ahead of Metalurg now and having won the direct encounter after the 26:28 in the first leg means a perfect base for the upcoming two matches at Barcelona and at home against Vardar.

But Metalurg was a steep mountain to climb, much harder than expect for top scorer Mikkel Hansen (8 goals), Marko Kopljar (7) and their PSG team mates.

PSG had a brilliant start, leaving Metalurg behind by a 9:2 after only 14 minutes. The Macedonians were not able to break through the French defence wall including superb goalkeeper Jose Manuel Sierra, while Paris marched through the Metalurg defence like a warm knife through butter.

But when coach Lino Cervar substituted goalkeeper Darko Stanic by Rade Mijatovic, it was a wake-up call for Metalurg. The Macedonians reduced the gap quite easily to only four goals at 8:12 and took additionally the profit of two early suspensions against Kopljar. This distance remained until the break, as Danish Mikkel Hansen hammered in the last shot of the first half for the 16:12.

The match was on the edge though the host intermediately again forged ahead to a three-goal advance at 25:22.

Boosted by the goals of Goce Georgievski (together with Vugrinec best scorer of his team by six strikes) and Filip Mirkulovski, Metalurg shocked Paris by taking the lead for the first time at 27:26 with only ten minutes remaining.

Though PSG went ahead again, the match was close until the final minute. When Kopljar stroke for the sixth and seventh time the margin was two goals at 31:29 90 seconds before the end. And even a red card against Igor Vori after his third exclusion did not stop PSG in the end, as Hansen’s eighth goal secured the close victory and the ticket for the Last 16.

But Metalurg (still on 9 points) can clinch their berth for the knock-out stage already on Sunday, if their local rivals Vardar beat Minsk on home ground – then both Skopje teams would have made it to the knock-out stage and all four spots of group B would be confirmed.

Group D:

SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs. HK DROTT Halmstad (SWE) 33:25 (20:8)

SG Flensburg-Handewitt remain the only hunter of HSV Hamburg in group D. Still being one point below the defending VELUX EHF Champions League champions, the team of Ljubomir Vranjes still have all chances to finally finish on top of this group after their sixth victory.

After their bitter Bundesliga home defeat against Champions League participant Rhein Neckar Löwen (23:27), Halmstad was no indicator for the German side.

Like in the first leg (37:27) the Swedish champions were something like a playing ball for Flensburg. Latest in minute 21, when the score was double-figured for the first time at 15:5 the deal was sealed. After a 12 goal advance at the break, Vranjes gave playing time to his young guns like 18 year old Michael Nicolaisen (2 goals). The victory had never been endangered, but Halmstad showed moral and could reduce the gap to finally eight goals, two strikes less than on home ground.

Best scorers were Serbian wing Bogdan Radivojevic with 7 goals for Flensburg, and Magnus Persson by eight goals for the Swedes.

In this group the next round might be decisive for the spots three and four, after Hamburg and Flensburg had already clinched their berth for the Last 16 before the EHF EURO break. Flensburg face La Rioja (6 points), while Aalborg (8 points) host Velenje (6 points).

TEXT: Björn Pazen