Late flurry keeps KIF hopes alive against rampant ZagrebArticle
«Go back

MATCH REVIEW: Croatian title holders HC PPD Zagreb are in the driving seat to reach the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finals after an effervescent defensive performance helped them to an impressive Last 16 first-leg home win over their Danish rivals.

Late flurry keeps KIF hopes alive against rampant Zagreb

Physical and low-scoring, the first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 tie between HC PPD Zagreb and KIF Kolding Kobenhavn turned out to be an absolute classic.

Abundant with spectacular goals, superb saves and tactical nuance, the rip-roaring contest kept fans in a jam-packed Zagreb Arena and those watching on television around Europe on the edge of their seats as the home team missed a chance to win by a whopping margin.

HC PPD Zagreb vs KIF Kolding Kobenhavn 22:17 (15:8)

Had anyone offered Zagreb coach Veselin Vujovic a five-goal win against KIF Kolding Kobenhavn in the first leg of their Last 16 double-header, the fiery Montenegrin would have probably accepted it graciously without complaint.

But having seen his side carve out a nine-goal lead (21:12) with less than 10 minutes remaining, the former Yugoslavia stalwart will in all likelihood rue a late dip which handed the visitors a lifeline 5:1 run barely keeping alive their hopes of overturning the deficit.

Roared on by 13,000 home fans, Zagreb made a dream start as their aggresive defence kept Kobenhavn scoreless in the opening eight minutes while right back Luka Stepancic and veteran winger Zlatko Horvat, rolling back the years in his 13th season with the Croatian champions, were unstoppable at the other end.      

An early time-out and replacing the legendary Kasper Hvidt with Marcus Cleverly between the posts turned out to be futile for Kobenhavn as Zagreb romped into an 11:2 lead, with their own goalkeeper Filip Ivic producing a grand performance which seemed to bedazzle the Danish outfit.

The visitors somehow managed to stay afloat in the last 10 minutes of the opening period and when two quick goals by Magnus Landin Jacobsen cut the deficit to 15:10 early in the second half, it seemed they would turn the match on its head with Zagreb struggling in attack.

The hosts failed to score for a staggering 12 minutes after the break as Hvidt returned to shore up the leaks but valiant defending kept the Croatian side  ahead and once they regained their momentum after towering pivot Ilija Brozovic netted, Kobenhavn were on the back foot again.

With the tempestuous Vujovic and his staff yelling out defensive instructions during a time-out, Zagreb were back firing on all cylinders and produced another flurry of fast breaks with Antonio Kovacevic netting twice in a 6:2 run which restored their nine-goal advantage.

When it seemed Kobenhavn were out for the count, their Icelandic coach Aron Kristjansson threw on his iconic 40-year old compatriot Olafur Stefansson whose vast experience made all the difference in the last few minutes.

Having calmed Kobenhavn’s nerves with a well-taken goal and some crisp passing, Stefansson seemed to knock the wind out of Zagreb’s sails as Lasse Anderson and Landin Jacobsen took advantage of several turnovers, the latter drilling in the final goal of the game in the dying seconds.

“I want to thank my teammates for a great effort and we will head into the return leg confidently,” Zagreb’s majestic goalkeeper Filip Ivic told Croatian television after the final whistle.  

“Unfortunately we ran out of steam in the last few minutes but overall it was a fantastic game of handball and I also want to thank our fans for getting behind us.”

“It was a monumental defensive performance with the fewest goals conceded in our Champions League campaign so far and hopefully we can reproduce this level of commitment in the return leg.”

The sharp-shooting Stepancic led Zagreb with six goals, Horvat chipped in with four and Brozovic added three.

TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br