Kiel bring PSG down to earth as La Rioja beat MetalurgArticle
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GROUP A MATCHES REVIEW: The former European club champions celebrated a morale-boosting win in Paris while La Rioja eased past Metalurg as the VELUX EHF Champions League group stage reaches its halfway mark

Kiel bring PSG down to earth as La Rioja beat Metalurg

Flying high after four wins from as many opening games in the VELUX EHF Champions League, French giants Paris Saint-Germain saw their perfect run brought to a halt by an excellent performance by THW Kiel, who prevailed in Paris despite missing injured left back Filip Jicha and playmaker Aron Palmarsson.

In Spain, Naturhouse La Rioja used the depth of their roster in a comfortable win over Macedonian rivals HC Metalurg, who put up a brave fight after losing several key players during a turbulent transition in the last few weeks.

The result leaves the Spanish outfit in a good position for a top-four finish and hence a Last 16 berth, while Metalurg suffered their fifth straight defeat and can only hope to break the fall when the two sides meet again in the reverse fixture in Skopje.

VELUX EHF Champions League Group A

Paris Saint-Germain Handball v THW Kiel 25:27 (13:12) 

The clash of Europe’s handball titans fully lived up to its billing as PSG and Kiel produced a rip-roaring head to head in which the lead changed hands time and again before the German outfit won their fourth game in a row making up for their shock opening defeat to Zagreb.

The result left both teams on eight points from five games, sharing the top spot in their section ahead of next weekend’s reverse fixture in Germany, one likely to keep fans around Europe on the edge of their seats.

An under-strength Kiel, missing top scorer Filip Jicha and the influential Icelandic centre back Aron Palmarsson, made the brighter start and raced into a 5:2 lead. The score in no way flattered the visitors and their lead would have been bigger but for a string of good saves by Patrice Annonay.

Serbian right back Marko Vujin was on fire for Kiel but the hosts gradually fought their way back into the match.

Having trailed by three goals for most of the first half, they rallied in the last 10 minutes of the opening period as Daniel Narcisse and Croatian pivot Igor Vori inspired a 7:3 run which lead to a slender one-goal half-time lead at 13:12 for the French side.

PSG drew first blood in the second half to open up a two-goal lead but it was Kiel who then turned a 14:12 deficit into a 17:15 lead and held onto their two-goal advantage despite an admirable solo effort by Mikkel Hansen to keep PSG’s unbeaten record intact.

The Danish left back drilled in a flurry of long-range shoots as the hosts tried to catch up and force one final twist, but a more balanced Kiel team held firm as Domagoj Duvnjak scored several crucial goals in the closing stages to thwart the French side's comeback.

Hansen finished the game as top scorer with eight goals but was undone by an unrelenting Kiel production belt with Duvnjak clocking in seven and Vujin netting six goals for the visitors.

Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs HC Metalurg (MKD) 31:27 (13:13) 

A handful of Metalurg fans made the 3,000-kilometre trip to Logrono to show their loyalty for the club in turbulent times and although they did not leave with a positive result, the Macedonian team and their faithful headed home with their pride intact.

Decimated by raft of recent departures, Metalurg still gave as good as they got in the first half and edged ahead several times.

La Rioja looked like taking a substantial half-time lead when they scored twice and saved a penalty to go 12:9 ahead with a man suspended for two minutes, but the visitors stormed back to force a deadlock as the rivals headed to the dressing room.

It was a different story after the interval, however, as the unstoppable Thiagus Goncalves rifled in one long-range effort after another and right wing Pedro Rodriguez Alvarez converted a flurry of fast breaks to carve out an unassailable 28:19 lead for the home side with 10 minutes remaining.

But Metalurg refused to roll over and they hit back with five unanswered goals to restore some respectability to the scoreline and force La Rioja to keep going at full throttle until the final buzzer.

Goncalves stopped Metalurg’s streak with his eighth score to restore a five-goal lead (29:24) and Rodriguez pressed on relentlessly to finish as the game’s top scorer with nine. 

An outstanding Filip Mirkulovski scored eight for Metalurg, Renato Vugrinec added six and Vancho Dimovski netted four. 

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / jh, bc