La Rioja edge closer to Last 16 after thrilling drawArticle
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GROUP A REVIEW: Meshkov Brest and Naturhouse La Rioja shared the spoils in a vastly entertaining VELUX EHF Champions League Group A match in Belarus, with both sides still able to qualify for the knockout stage of Europe’s premier club competition

La Rioja edge closer to Last 16 after thrilling draw

It was only fair that the rollercoaster in Meshkov ended in a draw as both sides gave as good as they got in a fast-paced encounter, with the lead changing hands time and again from start to finish.

The outcome favours La Rioja as they now have seven points from as many games, two more than Meshkov who also have a difficult schedule and hence a mammoth task to break into the section’s top four.        

VELUX EHF Champions League Group A

Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) 33:33 (15:18)  

Although La Rioja may see the outcome of this enthralling contest as a missed opportunity to gain more ground in a fierce dogfight to book a knockout stage berth, the Spanish outfit is still closer to sealing a spot in the business end of the competition.

With only 15 seconds remaining, the visitors allowed Slovenian playmaker David Spiler to weave his way through a static defence and bury the ball home to earn Meshkov a point, which may yet turn out to be crucial if other results in the remaining three rounds go their way.

It was a tit-for-tat battle from the start as Meshkov pivot Rastko Stojkovic for once had a quiet scoring game but his movement on the six-metre line opened plenty of space for his teammates.

Right wing Dzianis Rutenka, the game’s top scorer with eight goals, and centre back Nikola Manojlovic, took full advantage and netted a barrage of easy goals while La Rioja tormented the hosts with swift counter-attacking and some delightful set plays.

A 5:0 run in the closing stages of the first half gave the Spanish side a three-goal half-time lead but Meshkov wiped out the deficit midway through the second period end even nosed ahead at one point.

A dramatic finish followed as La Rioja again turned the tide and looked almost certain winners when intricate passing left livewire Juanin Garcia unmarked on the six-metre line, with a simple task of swerving the ball past Meshkov’s goalkeeper.

But the hosts rescued a point after Spiler was given a ridiculous amount of space to side-step three players and unleash a fierce shot into the bottom right corner, sparking noisy celebrations among the home fans.

Garcia led La Rioja with six goals and Pedro Rodriguez added five, while Janko Bozovic (five)and Manojlovic (four) added to Rutenka's eight for the home side.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cor