La Rioja enjoy morale-boosting win over PSGArticle
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GROUP A MATCH REVIEW: The Spanish side battled back valiantly to beat one of Europe’s club handball giants and boost their hopes of springing an upset in the first knockout round of the VELUX EHF Champions League ahead of Tuesday’s draw

La Rioja enjoy morale-boosting win over PSG

An epic clash between Naturhouse La Rioja and Paris Saint-Germain Handball epitomised the unquestionable quality of the VELUX EHF Champions League, as it produced a rip-roaring contest although the outcome was competitively meaningless.

Bound to finish fourth either way, La Rioja battled back from a five-goal deficit to celebrate a memorable win on home court as the French side, who are assured of a runners-up finish in a fiercely competitive group, once again showed defensive frailties.

VELUX EHF Champions League Group A

Naturhouse la Rioja vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball 35:33 (15:16)

Had they produced performances like this earlier in one of the toughest groups of Europe’s elite club competition, La Rioja may not have depended on other results going their way to be certain of reaching the Last 16 ahead of their clash with the continent’s most expensively assembled outfit.

With their passage to the knockout ensured after Kiel’s comprehensive 33:22 rout of Meshkov Brest on Thursday, the Spanish outfit produced 45 minutes of effervescent handball against more heralded opposition after falling 11:6 behind in the opening exchanges.

The PSG coaching staff rested many of their key players but reserve goalkeeper Patrice Annonay, standing in for the evergreen Thierry Omeyer, pulled of a string of superb saves throughout the match and the other fringe players also displayed some creative attacking talent.

However, PSG’s slack defending was the French side’s downfall as La Rioja, with their pride stung in front of a vociferous home crowd early on, roared back venomously and reduced the deficit to just one goal before half-time.

The home side’s goalkeeper Aquizu Aguinaglade was also in fine form, especially in the last quarter of the match when La Rioja gained the upper hand and carved out a 32:29 lead.

Despite a spirited late rally, PSG could not force one final twist and the outcome will have left their coaching staff with plenty of work to do on the drawing board ahead of the unforgiving knockout stages.

La Rioja, on the other hand, are bound to draw one of the top-placed teams in the Last 16 but if their impressive show against PSG is anything to go by, they have every chance of squeezing into the quarter-finals.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / cor