Zelenovic delights the yellow wallArticle
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MATCH REVIEW: Celje become the first non-German team this season to beat SG Flensburg-Handewitt

Zelenovic delights the yellow wall

One year ago, RK Pivovarna Lasko Celje were easily dispsed of by later-on VELUX EHF Champions League winners HSV Hamburg on home court, 29:38 in their Last 16 opener, but this season they finished their home leg victorious against another German side: The 26:25 win over SG Flensburg-Handewitt will boost their confidence ahead of the re-match next Saturday, but for Flensburg the quarter-finals are still within reach.

VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, first leg:

RK Pivovarna Lasko Celje (SLO) vs. SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) 26:25 (13:12)

They danced on the court, they were cheered by their vociferous fans and they left proud and heads held high. RK Pivovarna Lasko Celje are the first non-German team in all competitions in this season to beat SG Flensburg-Handewitt. Thanks to a final trio of goals, the hosts secured a deserved victory, as their opponents gave a two-goal lead away in the last four minutes.

Best Celje scorer was Nemanja Zelenovic with eight goals, including the last two for his squad. Holger Glandorf netted seven times for Flensburg, but missed the chance to equalise at the final buzzer.

The first half was imprinted by full speeds of both sides. Right from being in ball possession, Celje accelerated and literally overran their opponent. The Slovenian runners-up also counted on an extremely mobile defence, made of stone and concrete. For most of the first half Flensburg lacked the ideas and inspiration to crack this wall.

Boosted by the wall in yellow on the stands of the Zlatorog Arena, Celje took a brilliant start, forcing Flensburg coach Ljubomir Vranjes to take his first time-out after only eight minutes, seeing his team down by 1:4. Flensburg had problems to adapt to the combative Celje defence, led by Vid Potenko and backed by goalkeeper Matevs Skok.

And in attack Celje either were strong through their counter attacks or goals from their back court axis of Ivan Sliskovic and Zelenovic.

Ahead by 10:7, Champions League top scorer Gasper Marguc missed a great chance to forge ahead to a four goal margin – and this failure was punished immediately by three Flensburg goals within three minutes to bring the scores level for the first time at 10:10.

By “waking-up” goalkeeper Mathias Andersson, the German side was boosted in the first re-match of the 2004 EHF Champions League finals, won on aggregate by Celje.

After the break, Celje coach Branko Tamse tried everything to save the powers of his key players with a huge rotation. But due to those changes, his team lost the speed they had shown before.

The Flensburg defence could adapt easier and as Celje missed too many chances against a brilliant Andersson, the German side more or less took control of a still fully equal and level match.

Going ahead for the first time at 16:15, the German side were confident and boosted by the long-range goals of Glandorf from the right back position, but could not cast off their hosts.

When left wing Anders Eggert was out for medical treatment, Celje took the lead again, but ten minutes before the end it was equal again at 20:20.

As the Slovenian side lost power and concentration, Flensburg then even managed to forge ahead to 25:23 and seemed to be on the way to taking a lead back to Germany – but then Zelenovic turned the match on its head once again.

So the Slovenian record of first leg matches in the Last 16 is clearly better than the German one: After Velenje had beaten PSG on Saturday, Celje kept the record clear, while Kiel was the only German side come out on top, while Hamburg tied and Flensburg and Löwen both lost.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor