Löwen and Szeged celebrate one-goal wins as all FINAL4 team fail to winArticle
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GROUP B DAY REVIEW: The winning run of defending champions stopped in Mannheim, while Kielce came short in Szeged.

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Löwen and Szeged celebrate one-goal wins as all FINAL4 team fail to win

After Kiel were defeated by Zagreb, PSG lost at Flensburg and Veszprem only tied with Plock earlier this week, the Sunday action brought even more surprising results of Round 1 of the VELUX EHF Champions League.

In two Group B thrillers, Szeged beat Kielce and Löwen left Barcelona behind too to complete a nightmare start for the 2015 VELUX EHF FINAL4 participants as all four teams (Barcelona, Veszprem, Kielce and Kiel) failed to win their season's openers.

After Round 1 the Group B has the most unlikely leader as the Swedish newcomers IFK Kristianstad top the rankings.

MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs Vive Tauron Kielce 31:30 (17:14)

Eleven goals from 14 attempts – this extra-ordinary scoring rate of Slovenian international Dean Bombac was one of the keys to the surprising win of 2014 EHF Cup winners against 2015 VELUX EHF FINAL4 participant.

After winning all group matches in the 2014/15 season, Kielce started the new season with a defeat. Their best scorer of the previous season Karol Bielecki missed the last chance with the final whistle to tie the score and make the home team pay for being scoreless in the last five minutes of the game.

With five minutes to go the deal was supposed to be sealed when Szeged were ahead 31:26. But then the Hungarian side causes too many turnovers and missed their shots to allow Kielce to reduce the gap to 30:31 – and when Szeged lost the ball seconds before the end Kielce could charge to their last gasp attack. However Bielecki's shot in the dying moments did not make it to the goal of MOL-Pick after being stopped by Ilyes's block.

“We would not have deserved to lose this match today,” Szeged’s coach Juan Carlos Pastor said, who won the all-Spanish coaches duel against Talant Dujshebaev.

“Talant is always a gentleman, even when he loses the match,” Pastor said with a smile, adding: “I was not satisfied with everything, but we have proved that we have to give 100% percent otherwise we lose.”

Dujshebaev's team had the better start, but Szeged – boosted by their fans and backed by Bombac's stellar performance turned the match in the first half to be ahead by 17:14 at the break.

“We made too many mistakes in the first half, which were punished immediately by counter attack goals. The final distance of only one goal does not show the reality, as were defeated easily,” Dujshebaev said.

With six goals the best scorer of Kielce Julen Aguinagalde added: “Today’s game showed that we will have a very difficult season in the Champions League. Every match is like a final.”

Montpellier HB (FRA) vs HC Vardar Skopje (MKD) 25:30 (12:9)

Thanks to Slovenian right wing Dragan Gajic, Montpellier had a perfect start, leaving Vardar behind 6:2 in the 13th minute. Vardar needed some time to adapt and to find their rhythm, but even an early time-out by coach Raul Gonzalez did not change the rundown.

Montpellier acted clever and movable in defence, while the Macedonians could not break through this wall until the end of the first half, when the hosts still were ahead by three goals (12:9).

But Gonzalez found the right words in the dressing room. After only five minutes, the result was levelled at 13:13, one attack later, Vardar were ahead 14:13, and from the 16:15 on they did not give the lead from their hands until the end.

In this crucial period Spanish newcomer Jorge Maqueda (six goals in total and scorer of the 1800th Champions league goal of Vardar for the 4:7) was the driving force for Vardar.

By extending the gap easily to 20:15 – the first five-goal cushion in the match – the Macedonian champions seemed to be on the right track, but Montpellier showed character and moral despite some injured players, bridging the gap several times to a one-goal distance. They never managed to equalise again despite several chances though.

In the end Vardar clinched the two points by a triple strike of Dereven, Toskic and Karacic for the decisive 28:24 lead, Montpellier were beaten despite a great fight and missed their 90th Champions League victory.

Their coach Patrice Canayer was disappointed: “We are an ambitious team and we cannot afford to lose at home by five goals. We played well for 40 minutes, but compared to last season’s matches with Vardar, when we tied, this was a clear step back.”

On the other hand, Gonzalez was satisfied with the opening win: “It is always hard to win at Montpellier. Due to their injuries they looked tired in the second half, whereas we had enough time to prepare for the match.”

Maqueda, who could exploit his knowledge on Montpellier, as he had played for Nantes several times against the French runners-ups, added: ”At the end we made it after we had caused too many mistakes intermediately.”

Timur Dibirov also scored six times for Vardar, while Gajic hit the back of the net seven times for Montpellier.

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs FC Barcelona Lassa 22:21 (10:9)

Two briliant defence sides, two extraordinary goalkeepers and a high level right from the start.

Löwen underlined their ambitions by beating the defending champions. “This was the best match in Europe since month. The defence was amazing, and despite the defeat I am satisfied with my team,” said Barca coach Xavi Pascual, for him it was the second defeat against a German side within two weeks after losing the semi-final of the Super Globe against Füchse Berlin in Doha.

“We were lucky, but we deserved to win,” said Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen: “This was a great game with great defence and goalkeeping.”

The first half was fully defence-oriented by both sides – including sensational goalkeeper performances of Danijel Saric (Barcelona) and Mikael Appelgren (Löwen).

Only twelve goals were scored in the first 20 minutes (6:6), after the German side had been ahead 6:3.

Saric was the tower of power in the Barcelona team, which had to replace injured six-time EHF Champions League winner Siarhei Rutenka.

The defending champions intermediately striked back with four unanswered goals in a row to take their first lead, when Saric had shut up his shop for several minutes.

But boosted by 7,361 fans, Löwen turned the tables again to go with a close 10:9 lead to the break.

While the hosts nearly kept the same players on court throughout the whole match, Barcelona’s coach Pascual started an early rotation on all positions, proving the great width of the squad.

With ten minutes to go Barca took the lead again (18:17) after two counter-attack goals. But Appelgren's saves stopped the short downswing of Löwen, while the wings Gensheimer and Groetzki and mainly incredible playmaker Andy Schmid took the responsibility in attack to again forge ahead by two (21:19) and only three minutes left.

Schmid’s sixth goal for 22:20 followed by another Appelgren's save made the fans jump for joy and sealed the last surprise of match day 1 in the VELUX EHF Champions League. While Rhein-Neckar avoided the longest losing run in the Champions League, Barcelona's eight-game streak came to an end.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br