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GROUP C MATCH REVIEW: Chekhovskie Medvedi win opening thriller against La Rioja

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The Bears are back

600 minutes or ten matches in the previous season, Chekhovskie Medvedi had waited for that moment, on Thursday night they could dance again: After the Russian champions had been the only team in the 2014/15 group phase, which did not win a single match, the Bears are back now. But the team of Vladimir Maximov needed to shiver until the final buzzer, until the 27:26 win against La Rioja in their first group phase match of the new season was sealed.

Finally Kiril Kotov made his team jump for joy with the winning strike 27 seconds before the end.

Group C: Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) vs Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) 27:26 (13:13)

The fact that until minute 45 no team could manage to forge ahead to more than two goals was the proof for a fully balanced opening match. Then it were the hosts to seemed to have paved the winners’ way at 22:19 after a double strike of Maxim Kuretkov.

In the early stages both teams had on the one side problems in attack and on the other stood extremely strong in defence. The first two goals advance in the game was in favour of the Spaniards at 13:11, but Medvedi stroke back by a triple strike to be ahead again by 14:13.

The first 30 minutes were imprinted by great saves of La Rioja goalkeeper Richard Kappelin and great goals of the “leader of the young Bears pack”, experienced Dmitry Kovalev, who netted in all his five goals before the break.

In the second half and after the 20:19, Medvedi took full control for 15 minutes, mainly thanks to Kuretkov. Legendary coach Vladimir Maximov might have surprised the fans in the arena, when he took his time-out exactly when his team was in a flow, but his players understood his words after the 22:19 - and extended the gap even to a five goals margin.

And in full contrast to the previous season, when no other team conceded more goals than Medvedi, this time the defence worked well, allowing La Rioja only a limited number of shots and putting enormous pressure on them. Behind them, “the old man down the goal”, Oleg Grams, stood like a wall.

But maybe the Russian side felt to safe and secure when the final six minutes had started. All in a sudden and somehow, La Rioja showed their teeth, showed moral and showed goals. Within nine minutes, the away team reduced the distance from 19:25 to only 24:25. Unplanned ten minutes before, Maximov was forced to put the green card on the officials table again.

A match, which seemed decided already, had turned into a fully open affair again. When Cristian Malmagro netted in his eighth goal for 26:26 and only two minutes to be played, Medvedi became nervous. La Rioja tried hard to take the lead again, but in the end, Kotov scored the last goal, though the Spanish side even added an additional court player for their last attack - but failed.

TEXT: Björn Pazen