Hard graft in HungaryArticle
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BLOG: Impressed by both rivals ehfTV commentator Tom O Brannagain looks back to the first real "clash of the titans" of the new season.

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Hard graft in Hungary

Veszprem, Hungary. A strange air of confliction in the minds of coaches and players pervades the air. It's a counter intuitive feeling, a sense that either team could lose this game, rather than win it. Coaches pinpoint weaknesses in their squads that could be targeted by the opposition to 'turn them over'.

But it's that type of group anyone could beat anyone else and 'on the day' might just become the order of the day.

To my mind the positives on each team are there for all to see. Two of the best keepers. Two of the best diamonds. Two of the best line players.
Two of the best defensive and counter attack teams.

The match ups were endless and the action was unceasing

There is an old bible quote that is quite familiar and has been used through the ages for sports purposes:

'The race is not to the swift'

Never was a truer word spoken, as the late throw-off led to a sluggishness in both teams. However as Veszprem struggled, RNL were quickly into their stride. The home team could find no answer to the strength in defence of the Germans and time and again, their inability to find Sulic on the line and a dearth of shooting possibilities saw them fall further and further behind. Their attack, in short, was static, with any chance of creative attacking play being stifled by the men of Mannheim.

By contrast, RNL looked like they were playing at half pace and this was all they needed to do.

However, they met an inspired Mikler in goal and he single handedly kept his team in the game. We have seen it before in handball and most notably in the first round when Celje met Vardar, that it is not the team quickly into their stride that lasts the course.

The old quote goes on:
'nor the battle to the strong'

But in this case they might just be wrong. In the second half Veszprem upped their defensive efforts and RNL noticeably tired.

There were many reasons for this, but three stand out in my head as a series of events that on their own would not have turned the game, but taken in their entirety had a huge bearing.

Nagy started to shoot and score. Last week and this, he looked like he would prefer to lay the ball off rather than find the gap, but in the second half he turned the game on its head. No longer could RNL focus solely on IlIc, they now had a two pronged half back attack and they couldn't cope.

Guardiola got two suspensions. The first was slightly unfortunate, but the glue, nay, the steel that had focused the defence was gone and the Hungarians exploited it ruthlessly. Kneer is good in the centre block, but he is much better with the Spaniard beside him.

Lastly, a relative anonymous onlooker in the first half, Chema, the most vital piece in Ortega's jigsaw, came to life. He dragged players this way and that to find the space for his shooters. And when they had a power play, he destroyed the defence. When Jacobsen went to a 5-1, it was music to the ears of the centre player. He continued his rich vein of form and his team benefitted.

And when it didn't work, they had Mikler, who mopped up any fast-break or shot that came his way.

RNL tired due to only brief substitutions for Myrhol and Schmid. Petersson, played all sixty minutes. By the end his early shooting form was ineffectual.

This was a match for the purist. The defence purist that is.. There were no 'amazing' goals, just serious hard graft by two teams that are on a par in every way.

I'll finish up with the final part of the saying:

'but time and chance happen to them all'.

This time Veszprem took the chance, but who is to say what will happen next time out. It's too close to call.

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator