The clock is tickingArticle
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BLOG: KIF will need to pick up the pace if they are to have any chance of making up a six-goal deficit

The clock is ticking

The Match of the Week pits two teams against each other that are reminiscent of the Maginot and Siegfried lines. Each team has built a series of fortresses to stop the other gaining any advantage resulting in what should be a stalemate. And during the group phase this was in complete evidence. Kolding had the best defensive record after the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase. And if you consider the group in which Metalurg played and forego the 18-goal defeat to Barcelona, they are also up there with the best.

The flip side of this is the offence. If you take only the qualifying teams, Kolding has the worst scoring record and Metalurg is just behind them. Both teams pride themselves on conceding as little as possible and winning low scoring games.

But they do it in very contrasting ways. Whereas Kolding has built on Laen, Boldsen, Jorgensen and Hvidt, in goal, they have had to do it due to the extraordinary injury list that has left them shorn of any kind of back line. The fact that they have overcome adversity to reach the Last 16 is a testament to guts, focus and experience.

"Ball hoggers"

Metalurg has achieved the feat of being the lowest scorers in a completely different way. Their defence is good, but not perhaps as good as Kolding’s. What they do is that they keep the ball. It is a simple strategy, completely within the rules of the game, but perhaps not within its spirit. The offside from the centre throw off was done away with in a bid to speed up the game, to allow it to flow more, to score more goals. Kiel, Barcelona, Veszprem and so many teams are able to negate the concession of a goal by quickly counterattacking from the centre spot. Attacks have had to retreat more quickly and the game has gone from an average of 40 goals in a game to 60. It has revolutionised handball.

Metalurg approach the rule much more cautiously. Their philosophy is that if we have the ball, the others cannot score. To wit, they do not play quickly from the centre. It is ironic that Lino Cervar has called for a shot clock in handball as his team is master of pushing the time until passive play is called. Let’s look at the first leg of the game in Metalurg. I took out my stop watch to see, exactly how long Metalurg held the ball in the game.

I timed how long it took for them to get the ball to the centre line after they conceded a goal. I did it five times after different goals. On each occasion it took 13 seconds. Their attacks lasted on average over a minute with some lasting even longer. By contrast Kolding’s’ attacks, from goal conceded to shot lasted less than 30 seconds. This means that Metalurg have possession of the ball twice as long as the other team.

I decided then that this was too arbitrary so I took a 12 minute section at the start of the second half to see how long each team had the ball. Kolding had possession for four minutes and Metalurg eight.

I think it is safe to assume that in most matches there are probably, 60-70 attacks per team, with an average of 30 goals scored per team in a game. In games where Metalurg play, this decreases to about 40-50 attacks, which means that there is less chance to score goals.

Metalurg won the first leg 23:17. Kolding has to make up a six-goal deficit in the second leg. How many attacks they can muster, and score from, will determine the outcome. If they can only attack 40 times, due to not actually having possession of the ball, then this would appear to be mission impossible. The other outcome of Metalurg “hogging” the ball is that Kolding, speed up their attacks and therefore make more mistakes. This was plainly evident in the game in Skopje.

It would be disingenuous of me to say that this is the only style of play Metalurg has. They can counter, they can fast break and they have wonderful players in the attack. But the overriding philosophy is that of slow, slow handball. They have cut their cloth to suit their measure.

Kolding, unfortunately for them, has had no other option but to play the way they do. They have three fit half back court players and no specific right back. They are held together by a very thin thread and the six-goal deficit, which under normal circumstances is achievable, is tantamount to 10 in a normal game.

Kolding had chances to score more, but found an inspired Stanic in goal. Hvidt had a bad day by his high standards. He must banish the first leg from his mind. He will have to have the game of his life and the defence must turn the attack of Metalurg. Hundstrup or Schnuchel, and Rocas will have to break and break quickly. To do this, Hvidt must have an exceptional save ratio, as this team has been built on the fast break goals of Rocas. They are not a team to break quickly from the centre line as they just don’t have the personnel to do this for 60 minutes in a game.

The result is they are almost always attacking against a massed defence, something that suits Metalurg. They, on the other hand, are tailor-made to play against the 6-0 of Kolding, which is far more suited to teams trying to break through, rather than trying to steal the ball.  So when the chances arrive, due to the lower number of attacks, they must score.

But Laen was part of the Berlin team that overcame an 11-goal deficit against Leon and who would bet against him and this team doing it again. The clock is ticking on KIF’s participation in the competition.

TEXT: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehfTV commentator