Quarter-final berth as birthday presentArticle
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MATCH REVIEW: Flensburg-Handewitt among the top eight of the VELUX EHF Champions League for the eighth time

Quarter-final berth as birthday present

It was a tough fight, but in the end SG Flensburg-Handewitt have made it for the eighth time in their club history among the best eight teams of the VELUX EHF Champions League. The 30:27 win over bravely fighting RK Celje was a perfect present for again brilliant SG goalkeeper Mattias Andersson, who celebrated his 36th birthday on Saturday.

On the other hand, Celje said “farewell, Champions League” in style and heads held high after they were on equal level nearly in the whole 120 minutes of both Last 16 matches.

VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, second leg:
SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) vs RK Pivovarna Lasko Celje (SLO) 30:27 (15:14)
First leg: 25:26, Flensburg-Handewitt qualified for quarter-finals with a 55:53 aggregate score

"115 of 120 minutes we played equal, but in the decisive stage of the re-match Flensburg took advantage of our tiredness and our mistakes,“ said Celje coach Branko Tamse after a thrilling match on Saturday.

His team showed a highly efficient and disciplined defence performance in the first half, backed by the saves of goalkeeper Matevs Skok, who saved seven shots in the first 30 minutes (twelve in total). The host could not manage to cast off their opponents, as they had problems both in attack and defence.

Even an early 7:4 lead did not boost Flensburg with their usual confidence. They played with high speed, but sometimes the risk of losing the ball easy was high too.

“We did not play as well as we usually can do,” admitted Mattias Andersson. “But finally we are through, this is what counts. And now I hope for another present of my teammates.”

So Celje equalised by a double strike of Gasper Marguc (with his fifth of in total eight goals) and Ziga Mlakar again at 12:12 - and even gave some chances for their first lead from their hands.

Flensburg had problems in stopping powerful line player Igor Zabic and the back court shooters Ivan Sliskovic and Nemanja Zelenovic, who already had imprinted the first leg with their goals.

Even a time-out did not provide Flensburg with some new ideas to return to their usual rhythm – despite the comeback of their defence boss Tobias Karlsson, who had missed the first leg due to an infect.

The hosts were ahead by only one goal after the break – at that time not enough to proceed. Even four straight saves of goalkeeper Andersson right at the start of the second half did not change the style of SG play immediately. It took nine minutes before a hammer strike of Holger Glandorf brought Flensburg ahead by three goals (19:16).

But still they were hectic and nervous in attack, while the defence improved compared to the first half.

Defence and Andersson the keys to victory

“In the last 20 minutes of the match our defence and of course Mattias Andersson were the keys to success,” said team captain Karlsson, who does not have any wish, which team he wants to face in the quarter-finals, and said: “We had promised Mattias to give him a gift with a victory.”

“I am really satisfied, my players – and also our fans – did a great job today. Despite some mistakes of our younger players we achieved our goal,” said SG coach Ljubomir Vranjes, adding: “In the important moments we were really good – but we need to have the greatest respect for Celje, they are a really good and amazing team.”

In his team, Anders Eggert, Jim Gottfridsson and Lasse Svan were the best scorers with six goals each.

“Celje put enormous pressure on us in 120 minutes, but we are very happy after this tough match,” said Svan.

"I am not too disappointed, because Flensburg were better than us. We missed our defence boss Vid Kotenko and despite those circumstances we played strong,” Gasper Marguc said.

“The main thing is to proceed to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 for the first time ever – this is our clear goal regardless the opponent we have to face,” is the hope of Dierk Schmäschke, manager of Flensburg.

Act of friendship

Right before the match fans of both sides – 50 from Slovenia and 30 from Flensburg -, who have a close friendship since the 2003/04 season when both sides faced in the Champions League final, met in a Macedonian restaurant in Flensburg to celebrate their good relationships.

By incident, even former Flensburg legend Lars Christiansen arrived in this restaurant to discuss with the fans. The ones, arriving from Celje, had a 13 hour bus trip behind them.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br