Crunch time for La RiojaArticle
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FEATURE: 60 minutes separates Naturhouse La Rioja from the next round of VELUX EHF Champions League

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Crunch time for La Rioja

The Spanish club has its future in its own hands; If Logroño beat TATRAN Presov they will qualify for the play-off for the Last 16.

They lost a chance to qualify for it by losing to Porto and Brest. Now, this is a do-or-die match.

Saturday 5 December is marked with a red circle in Naturhouse la Rioja’s calendar because they could tick off one of their main goals for this season.

But it is not an easy challenge: their opponent is placed bottom of Group C, but Presov will play at home and it is their last game of season in Europe’s premier competition, so they will want to finish on a high.

La Rioja will arrive having lost their last two last Champions League games against Porto and Brest.

If they had won one of those two games, this final group phase tie would not have been so important.

They also lost their first game in the Spanish league last weekend against Villa de Aranda.

In the lead up to this tie we spoke with the coach of la Rioja, Jota Gonzalez, and their top scorer, Cristian Malmagro, exclusively for

The Spanish coach evaluates this first stage of the season and how his team has overcome the injuries of some important players.

“Presov are now better than at the beginning of this season, and they want to say goodbye to the competition in the best possible way.

“Presov have improved greatly and are a more complete team now.

“When you play away you know it's very difficult to win.

“In Porto’s last match, they lost away to Chekhovskie Medvedi, and the Portuguese team was favourite to win.

“We will have one last big push to qualify - we deserve it.

“I think we are played extraordinary well in Champions League up until we stopped for national team week, and we were also playing very well in our domestic ASOBAL league.

"We started the season well; we began every match very strong and we racked up some nice leads.

“But now between injuries and fatigue it is very difficult to be prepared for big battles.

“And in the final stretch of the first round of the ASOBAL league we have played against the toughest rivals: Ademar Leon, Villa de Aranda, Granollers and Barcelona (next week).

“What I most appreciate about the trajectory of our club is that we are regular.

“We are in the Champions League for another season and the other teams consider us a rival to be reckoned with. For this reason, it is important to qualify for the Last 16.”

Cristian Malmagro arrived in Naturhouse la Rioja at the end of last summer replacing Stefan Terzic, who is out with a long term injury.

Malmagro is currently the third top scorer of VELUX EHF Champions League with 65, one behind Mikkel Hansen and Janko Bozovic.

The Catalan right back is mentally prepared for this crucial game in Slovakia.

“We know scoring away from home is always difficult. “We are a team with constraints because we have a lot of players out injured.

“But mentally we are in a good place, the problem is that our power is decreasing”.

If Naturhouse qualify, the play-off will be very tough for Malmagro.

“The other group is not weaker than ours. In handball there are many factors that can decide a game and in such a competition any team can lose in any venue.”

“The main goal for Naturhouse La Rioja is to finish second in the league. In the Champions League the aim is to get as far as possible but we have to be aware that our budget of the team is the lowest of the competition.”

Cristian Malmagro is signed only until the end of this season. But he explains that it will be very difficult to continue wearing the colours of La Rioja after Christmas.

“My transition has been a lot better than I expected and since my shoulder injury has healed I feel great.

“The team has treated me very well, there are a lot of young people in the team and there is a great atmosphere.

“But staying with La Rioja next year will be difficult. I have had several offers but nothing is set in stone.”

TEXT: Adria Barrio