Löwen vying for second spot with VardarArticle
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NEWS FEATURE: Rhein-Neckar Löwen confident of second-place finish in Group C following victory against Veszprem last time out.

Vying for second spot with Vardar

“Those were the best 43 minutes of this season.” 

That is how Rhein-Neckar Löwen head coach Nikolaj Jacobsen described the first three quarters of his team’s clash with VELUX EHF Champions League Group C leaders MKB-MVM Veszprem on Saturday.

At that point in proceedings the German club led the previously unbeaten Hungarians 24:13 – before going on to record a 32:25 success, which leaves Polish champions KS Vive Tauron Kielce as the competition’s only undefeated team heading into the Men's World Championship 2015 break.

That result also means Löwen now have 10 points from their eight matches, four points behind Veszprem, and only one short of second-placed Vardar Skopje.

“We are confident we can take over the second position,” said Jacobsen, whose side will host the Macedonians in their final Group C game, having lost the return fixture back in October.

“Still I am sad about our defeat at Celje,” added Jacobsen. “This match really hurt me and the team.” 

The leaders of the German Bundesliga are yet to produce their domestic consistency on the European stage.

Jacobsen’s men have not dropped a single Group C point at home while winning just one of their four away games, at French side Montpellier Agglomeration.

“To become a real top team we need more stability,” admits Jacobsen, who succeeded Gudmundur Gudmundsson as Löwen boss at the start of the season after the Icelandic coach took charge of the Danish national team.

Jacobsen has already steered Löwen into the last 16 by virtue of that victory against Veszprem while Montpellier’s win at RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko confirmed Group C’s top four – although the order in which they advance is still to be determined.

“We are happy to have reached our first goal, to make it to the knockout stage. But knowing from the past we also have in mind that a third or fourth position after the group phase can mean an early elimination in the last 16,” said Jacobsen.

He added: “When you beat a world selection like Veszprem has, we have shown our class. 

“But still we are far away from the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Veszprem has the squad and the stability to go that far again, we still have to improve.”

Löwen are also out to improve on last season’s campaign, which ended with them missing out on the VELUX EHF FINAL4 by just a single goal in their quarter-final against FC Barcelona.

This came two years after they made it all the way to Cologne, and claimed the only title in the club’s history by winning the EHF Cup in 2013.

They might be heading in the right direction, but Jacobsen and his staff are by no means getting carried away, with the February 21 meeting with Vardar their primary focus.

“We are confident at the moment – but so many things like injuries or bad luck at draws can happen, so you cannot predict how this season will end,” he said.

“I do not like intermediate balances, I only count when one stage is over,” adds assistant coach Oliver Roggisch, who had been a Löwen player until last season. “So we will not celebrate until we have reached this second position.”

It is Roggisch’s chief responsibility to work on the Löwen defence – and it worked brilliantly against Veszprem. “We have some more options now, which enable us to switch quite quickly to react on our opponents. This makes things easier for our counter attack specialists.

“But still there’s room for improvement.”

Team captain Uwe Gensheimer, echoes that sentiment, and is only looking forward.

“We do not look back on this stupid defeat in Celje, as we cannot change anything on the result,” said Gensheimer.

“We only look ahead and see the chance to finish the group stage like we did in the last season.”

That strong finish to last season's group stage saw Löwen occupy second spot in their group, behind none other than Veszprem. Perhaps a good omen for the remainder of the German club's current Champions League campaign?

TEXT: Björn Pazen / jh