Rhein-Neckar Löwen – an ideal rival for a Saturday afternoonArticle
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NEWS REPORT: Kielce analyse their opponents for what is arguably the most hotly anticipated ties of the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16

Rhein-Neckar Löwen – an ideal rival for a Saturday afternoon

In life things do not always go as they should. Sometimes we regret we had not behaved differently or that we had not had enough determination to finish what we had started. We wish we had met somebody before or quite the contrary – we curse the fate that had put somebody in our way. It is amazing how sport reflects life in some cases. 

“It was our biggest mistake to lose three November matches in a row which located us in third position in our group,” said KS Vive Targi Kielce coach Talant Dujshebaev. 

“In my opinion, currently Rhein Neckar Löwen together with Barcelona are playing the best handball in the world. Now, when the Löwen play their second match in Mannheim with thousands of people watching, it will be very, very difficult to beat them.” 

But no matter how high the bar is set, the point is to stay calm and not to lose oneself and the confidence you have been working on when facing previous challenges. 

“I still think we have enough quality to win,” smiled Dujshebaev. 

“None of our rivals are the favourites at our home. Not Barcelona, not Kiel, nor Löwen,” added Ivan Cupic. 

The Mannheim Quintet 

The last battle of these two teams was settled after extra time during the qualification tournament in 2011. Three of the present players of Kielce, including Cupic, Krzysztof Lijewski and Karol Bielecki were members of “the dark side of the force” then. 

Sad in that moment, Bielecki now mentions the event with a smile on his face: “It was a difficult territory; I remember that the atmosphere was really hot. We regretted that we hadn’t managed to win, but this is what sport is about. That time Kielce was better and I hope this time it will be the same.”

Apart from that trio, Slawomir Szmal and Grzegorz Tkaczyk fill in the group of former Mannheim players. Does it have any consequences for any team?

“I don’t think so,” answered Bielecki. “Okay, maybe the only minus for the Löwen is that we left the club and now we are here, not there,” he said laughing.

“We know how they play and what we can expect; now we only have to execute our plan and win,” 

The ideal rival for Saturday

This is all well and good, but the Mannheim team does not consist of debutants and since the second tranche of their former players transferred to Kielce, some new faces have appeared in the club.

“They have a very good counterattack, which might be problematic for us. However, their strongest point is the defence, including one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Niklas Landin,” warns Dujshebaev, accompanied by Cupic, who does not have the best memories with the Danish goalkeeper as he stopped Croat few times during their last meeting in the semi-final of the EHF EURO 2014.

”It wasn’t a good game for me then. He is magnificent and together with Szmal, Omeyer, Sterbik and Saric he is in the group of the world’s best goalkeepers at this moment. All of them are experienced, but Landin is also young and has a bright future ahead of him,” said the right wing.

Bielecki summarises Saturday’s opponents accurately: “Very strong goal, very good playmakers, fast wingers and two players of a high quality on each position - an ideal rival for us on Saturday.”

Step by step to reach the goal

How to defeat the almost ideal team then? With the answer comes Spanish line player of Kielce, Julen Aguinagalde. 

“We need to take it step by step. First step is at home, where we have to win. After that, we will think about the match in Mannheim,” admitted the 31-year-old. 

The friendly Basque is especially unwilling to slip on the next step, as he has come close to victory in Europe’s elite club competition, but he has yet to achieve it. 

“Finally I would like to win. We were close last year, but we didn’t manage to reach the final. But there’s always a first time, why not this year,” asks Aguinagalde.

There is one easy way to remove the tension of the return game in Germany: “We just have to win the first match by 20 goals,” laughed Bielecki in conclusion.

TEXT: Magda Pluszewska / cor