Underdogs fall after big battlesArticle
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GROUP C REVIEW: Veszprém, Vardar and Löwen were all winners on Saturday, but some were made to work harder than others.

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Underdogs fall after big battles

Both Celje Pivovarna Lasko and Chekhovskie Medvedi fell short in Skopje and Veszprém respectively, but the visitors showed strenght upon losing to their rivals. Veszprém just need a point to clinch group title, Vardar need one point to qualify for the last 16.

Elsewhere, Rhein-Neckar Löwen recorded a convincing first away win in their trip to Montpellier Agglomeration HB, strengthening their claim for a place in the last 16.


MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN) vs Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) 38:31 (17:16)

Medvedi started bravely in the sold out Veszprém Arena, the visitors were eager to prove their attacking potential is respected for a good reason. Veszprém’s notorious wall had a hard time trying to stop Dmitry Zhitnikov, however, the home side opened the floodgates, too.

Christian Zeitz and Gasper Marguc kept Veszprém ahead but Medvedi shocked the home crowd by taking over the lead about eight minutes from the break. Momir Ilic inspired a great run for the home side but the 17:16 halftime score spoke volumes about either the quality of Veszprém’s defence, or Medvedi’s attacks.

Carlos Ortega opened his team’s wall, which proved useful as the strategy forced Medvedi to move faster in attack and the visitors started to lose pace. Veszprém were happy to capitalize on it by calling their much longer bench to action, Máté Lékai scored five goals in the second half, while Zeitz showed class once again in the absence of the injured László Nagy.

The brilliant Zhitnikov was not enough to save his team as Veszprém won comfortably to maintain their 100 per cent record in Group C. It was a hard-fought victory for the Hungarian outfit, who kept their main rivals in the group under 30 goals  but Medvedi found their net first 32, than 31 times.


HC Vardar (MKD) vs Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) 34:32 (19:17)

The Macedonian team could practicaly secure their place in the knockout stage against a young Celje side, who were fresh from beating Rhein-Neckar Löwen in the last round.

Vardar took a better start but the teams were soon to be even as none of the opponents really cared for defending in the high-tempo game. When Arpad Sterbik made a couple of saves Vardar again went ahead but Ivan Sliskovic and Miha Zarabec kept the visitors on a short leash. It was a really entertaining clash with a huge amount of goals scored.

The home side had a narrow lead at half-time and once again it was Timur Dibirov and Igor Karacic, who finally extended Vardar’s lead to four goals. However, Celje put up a fight, Luka Zvizej even scored two short handed goals and the Slovenian champions were back in the game.

But coming back from behind burned too much energy for the visitors to catch Vardar as Sergei Gorbok and Alem Toskic kept the Macedonian outfit up front.

Celje fought hard but their last run was only enough to get as close as two goals to Vardar but the home side emerged as winners. Vardar are within easy reach of qualifying for the knockout stage, they need a single point to get there while Celje’s defeat made next week’s clash with Montpellier a "do-or-die” game.


Montpellier Agglomeration HB (FRA) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 29-33 (14-18) 

Löwen travelled to Montpellier and returned with their first victory away from home, which meant they held on to third spot in VELUX EHF Champions League Group C.

After suffering a heavy defeat in the reverse fixture, injury-hit Montpellier knew only a win would see them climb above their German visitors and improve their chances progressing to the next stage.

But, unfortunately for the French side, Löwen started the Match of the Week in much stronger style than their previous outing, against Celje, as their defence stood firm in front of Niklas Landin in goal and their attacks appeared more focused.

The German outfit took control of the game and held on to their lead thanks to goals from their usual heroes, Uwe Gensheimer and Kim Ekdahl du Rietz. 

The Montpellier defence may have been struggling, but Dragan Gajic and Mathieu Grebille fared better in keeping pace with Löwen in attack, as the hosts got back within four goals by half-time.

Löwen maintained their composure after the break, however, and Montpellier were left in no doubt as to which team was in charge, with the visitors firing on all cylinders. 

Patrick Groetzki, Andre Schmid and Harald Reinkind shared the scoring load as the German team edged closer and closer to victory. 

Montpellier fought to get close the gap as the contest approached its climax, but Löwen held their nerve and cruised to win by four goals. 

Löwen will therefore be on a high when they welcome Veszprém next week while Montpellier travel to Celje aiming to stay in front of the Slovenian side. 

TEXT: Bence Martha / br, jh