Kiel win group after enthralling drawArticle
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ROUND REVIEW: 15 of 16 participants for the knock-out stage confirmed after Aalborg and Velenje go through, while a draw against Kielce is enough for THW to finish on top.

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

Kiel win group after enthralling draw

Prior to the last 12 matches of the group phase in the VELUX EHF Champions League, 15 of 16 spots for the knock-out stage are already confirmed: Velenje’s 28:23 win at Aalborg lifted both teams in the Last 16. The only open spot will be decided in Group A next weekend, between Zaporozhye (seven points) and Zagreb (six points).

In the remaining matches, Vardar (against Wacker Thun) and Hamburg (at Halmstad) took expected victories, while Kielce remained unbeaten under their new coach Talant Dujshebaev. The Polish champions tied at THW Kiel and took a point which was enough for the German side to win their group.

Group B:

THW Kiel (GER) vs. KS Vive Targi Kielce (POL) 28:28 (13:16)
(Reverse fixture: 29:34)

They needed a draw and they took the draw with a hint of fortune. THW Kiel are confirmed winners of Group A, but they needed to wait until the final buzzer, before their fate was sealed. Kielce’s defence had been perfectly adapted to the Germans by Talant Dujshebaev, who nearly left the Sparkassenarena victorious, just like in two previous EHF Champions League finals with Ciudad Real.

Kiel had to replace playmaker Aron Palmarsson due to an injury, and the German side could not cope with the strong Kielce defence before the break. Talant's team was constantly in lead before in the first half, taking a clear three goal lead into the dressing rooms.

THW coach Alfred Gislason found the right solution during the break. Thanks to a three-goal run, his team equalised for the first time at 19:19 in minute 41 and took their first lead at 21:20.

Key to this improvement was goalkeeper Johan Sjöstrand, who in overall saved an incredible 22 Kielce shots, mainly in the second half.

As Filip Jicha was completely neutralised by the Kielce defence, THW changed their attack strategy, focusing on line players Rene Toft Hansen and Patrick Wiencek, who scored at crucial moments.

But even a three goal deficit at 22:25 did not break the Kielce resistance. Backed by the long range goals of Michal Jurecki the Polish champions equalised again at 26:26, before Kiel seemed to be on track to take the two points as they lead 28:26.

Two unforced errors and one missed shot allowed Kielce to bring themselves back on track again at 28:28. As Christian Sprenger missed Kiel’s last chance, the final attack was on Kielce’s side, but first they could not get through the THW defence and Uros Zorman's final free throw was no good.

With 15 points, THW are confirmed group winners, while the significance of today’s draw for Kielce will be seen after the final round, when they face Plock in the all-Polish duel. Second places KIF Kolding-Kobenhavn are ahead by one point now and have a managable task against Dunkerque on home court..

Group C:

HC Vardar - Skopje (MKD) vs. Wacker Thun (SUI) 32:25 (17:11)
(Reverse fixture: 37:24)

After the draw of Metalurg in Minsk at the Match of the Week (see additional article) earlier that day, Vardar are equal now with their local rivals on ten points. If this remains the same after the last group matches, Metalurg will rank ahead of Vardar after winning their direct encounter.

Mathematically both Macedonian teams can pass the second ranked team of PSG – Vardar must win at Paris and Metalurg must beat the unbeaten Barcelona.

The Macedonian champions had an easy going Sunday evening against the Swiss champions, who had gained only point against Metalurg on home court. Vardar finish their home campaign with only one defeat in five matches, coming against Metalurg.

After a convincing start, Vardar were ahead by six goals at the break and extended the margin to eight strikes for the first time at 22:14, mainly thanks to the 13 saves of goalkeeper Petar Angelov.

Thun did not give up and managed to avoid a result as one-sided as the earlier meeting (24:37), while Vardar in the finals stages saved some energy for the final round.

Group D:

Aalborg Handball (DEN) vs. RK Gorenje Velenje (SLO) 23:28 (14:15)
(Reverse fixture: 30:25)

The break for the EHF EURO, when Aalborg’s Gigantium hosted a preliminary round group of the championship, was anything but positive for Aalborg Handball. After missing the first “match point” to qualify for the Last 16 last week at La Rioja, the Danish champions dropped another two points – but in the end both teams could celebrate.

The five goal win for Velenje lifts the Slovenians and the Danes, level on eight points, to the Last 16. Even if La Rioja (currently on six points) win their final match against Halmstad and Aalborg (at Hamburg) and Velenje (against Flensburg) lose, the Spaniards cannot pass this duo, as they have lost both direct encounters and in an internal ranking of La Rioja (4 points, -4 goals), Aalborg and Velenje (both 4 points and +2 goals), they have the weakest goal difference.

The only question is, whether Aalborg or Velenje finish in third position. And even the direct encounter is a draw, as both won their away matches by a five goal difference, Aalborg stay ahead thanks to scoring 30 goals in Slovenia.

Thanks to a rock solid defence, Velenje had the better start and led by 4:1, before Aalborg improved and reduced the gap to only one goal at 10:11. This distance remained until the half-time buzzer.

Just like in the first half, the Slovenians were dominant in the initial minutes, forging ahead to 18:14 and 20:15. However, the hosts did not surrender, nearly bridging the gap at 21:22 – before an outstanding spell of play from top scorer Stas Skube started. His goals decided the match as Velenje stretched their lead to 28:22 after a 6:1 run. Like Aalborg’s Mads Mensah Larsen, Skube found the net eight times.

So both Slovenia and Denmark are represented by two teams each in the Last 16, with the two teams joining Celje and KIF Kolding Kobenhavn in the knock-out stages.

HK DROTT Halmstad (SWE) vs. HSV Hamburg (GER) 24:35 (12:14)
(Reverse fixture: 30:39)

For about 45 minutes Halmstad were a higher hurdle than expected for the defending VELUX EHF Champions League winners, but when the Swedish champions lacked power in the final stages, the final result was as expected.

Before the match Hamburg needed to cope with a bad news, as Danish right wing Hans Lindberg will miss the upcoming six weeks – including the Last 16 matches in the Champions League, due to finger surgery after an injury occurred in the Bundesliga match against Melsungen. His substitute Stefan Schröder showed his class and took his opportunity to shine as he was the top HSV scorer with six goals.

A missing Lindberg was not the reason why Hamburg only led by two goals at the break. After a strong period in the middle of the first half they were ahead by 14:9, but began to give away a number of turnovers.

On the other hand, Halmstad wanted to show their spectators in their last international home match of this season that they deserve to be part of this competition. Boosted by seven goals of Magnus Persson, the Swedes were there or there abouts until minute 39 and the score of 15:18.

A series of five straight HSV goals decided the match, which ended completely one-sided, as the German side forged ahead easily and took their first double-figure lead at 27:17, after Halmstad had only scored twice in eleven minutes.

Thanks to the eighth win in nine matches, Hamburg are back on top of this group, one point ahead of their local rivals Flensburg.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor