Final group phase victories for Löwen and La RiojaArticle
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MATCH REVIEWS: German and Spanish sides without problems in matches without relevance for the ranking.

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Final group phase victories for Löwen and La Rioja

Rhein Neckar Löwen and Naturhouse La Rioja finished the group phase victorious. But while the German side have already been confirmed runners-up of Group A before their win against Celje, the Spanish newcomers have already been eliminated from the knock-out stage prior to their victory over Halmstad.

Group A:

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs. Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) 35:25 (19:12)

Seven victories, two draws and one defeat – this is the balance of Rhein Neckar Löwen after the group phase, in which they had secured their second position already before their final match. On the other hand, third ranked Celje will face a second ranked team in the Last 16 and will be anxiously waiting for the draw on Tuesday.

After a quite even first 25 minutes the German side forged ahead after the break, and even won by a double-figured difference after the Slovenian side  - finishing by nine points from ten matches - had resigned in the last minutes.

Löwen replaced their top stars Uwe Gensheimer and Niklas Landin to recover from minor injuries, so other players got much more time on the court as usual. Their top scorers were Alexander Petterson, Andy Schmid and Gedeon Guardiola with five goals each.

The only “victory” Celje took, was gained by Gasper Marguc, who added six more goals on his tally to top the overall top scorer ranking of the VELUX EHF Champions League by 65 strikes now – but only for 25 minutes, before Halmstad’s Magnus Persson again took the lead with six goals at Logrono to be on 67 strikes now. But in contrast to the Swede, Marguc still have at least two matches ahead.

His team hopes to face another German side in the Last 16: “It would be brilliant to have the first knock-out matches against SG Flensburg-Handewitt,” said manager Roman Pungartnik.

“Because exactly ten years ago this was the pairing of the Champions League final, won by our club.”

Group D:

Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs. HK DROTT Halmstad (SWE) 38:34

Despite having eight points on their account – more than other team ranked fifth or sixth in this competition – Naturhouse La Rioja needed to say "good bye" to Champions League after the group phase.

Their fate had been sealed after last round, when Velenje won at Aalborg – a result, by which both teams clinched their berths for the Last 16, leaving La Rioja behind thanks to the better head-to-head matches.

But the Spanish team wanted to show their fans a great evening – and to prove their home strength. La Rioja were only defeated by Hamburg at Logrono, where they have beaten Aalborg, Velenje and Halmstad and tied with Flensburg. But only one away point – the one in the first leg at the Swedish champions (35:35) - was too less to proceed to the knock-out stage.

On Thursday evening both teams focused on the attack and nearly played without defence – proved by the number of 72 goals in 60 minutes. So this encounter was the group match with the second biggest numbers of goals by now, below Hamburg vs. Velenje (41:32/73) and together with the duel Halmstad vs. Velenje (32:40).

The number of turnovers (Halmstad 14 vs. La Rioja 7) decided the game, in which the hosts were clearly dominant over the Swedish team, who finish the group phase without a victory and only with one point on their account.

Best scorers were the two La Rioja shooters Alexander Tioumentsev (8 goals) and Thiagus Petrus (7 goals), while Philip Stenmalm netted in seven times for Halmstad too.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br