Paris and Flensburg march in stepArticle
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GROUP A REVIEW: While PSG had an easy-going evening with a clear win against Besiktas, the VELUX EHF Champions League 2014 winners were lucky to take both points in Celje

Paris and Flensburg march in step

Nothing has changed at the top of VELUX EHF Champions League Group A ahead of the last two rounds of the group phase: Thanks to their tenth win each, Paris Saint-Germain Handball and SG Flensburg-Handewitt are still equal on 20 points.

But the way in which the top teams earned their wins on Saturday night was very different – PSG cruised to a decisive win against Besiktas, while Flensburg only managed to tame Celje in the final stages of a rollercoaster match.

Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) vs. Besiktas Jimnastik Kulubu (TUR) 40:28 (16:11)

Backed by the ‘usual suspects’: goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer (17 saves), Mikkel Hansen (10 goals) and Nikola Karabatic (seven goals), PSG were never in danger of a loss despite an unexpectedly high number of technical mistakes in the first half.

The final result saw a similar high score as in the first leg between these sides, when Paris won 40:30, and like Besiktas’ previous match (34:38 against Veszprem).

Besiktas’ performance on Saturday was something of a one-man-show starring top scorer Darko Djukic (11 goals), and the Turkish champions were quite close until the middle of the second half, before the hosts crushed their visitors.

In the first 15 minutes, the goalkeepers dominated the match, as Ibrahim Demir (52 per cent in the first quarter) and Omeyer (53) saved more than half of the shots of their respective opponents in this period. While the French World, Olympic and EURO champion managed to increase his level to 56 per cent at the break (finishing on 46 per cent overall), Demir lacked the support of his defence later in the match.

The first half went on to become a shooting duel between VELUX EHF Champions League top scorer Hansen, now on 92 goals in total, and Serbian wing Djukic, who now has 71 strikes on his tally.

With some powerful goals from current World Handball Player of the Year, Karabatic, Paris forged ahead from 5:5 to 9:5 and later on from 9:7 to 12:7 to gain quite a comfortable five-goal cushion at the break.

In contrast to the half-time score of 16:11 in favour of the hosts, the shooting duel between Hansen and Djukic was an equal 5:5 at the break. But Hansen had only played 18 of the first 30 minutes before being replaced by Daniel Narcisse.

Without needing to give all they could, Paris kept the five-goal distance until the middle of the second half, while Besiktas continued to play at their top level – boosted by Djukic.

But at 26:22 PSG accelerated and decided the encounter with a 6:0 series that took the hosts to their first double-figured advantage at 32:22 in minute 50. In the end, the twelve-goal gap at the final whistle resulted from the shifting Parisian gear in the final stages.


RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) 26:30 (15:12)

“We knew what to expect, as all teams have problems winning here,” said Flensburg coach Ljubomir Vranjes after his team had crossed the hurdle in Celje and taken their ninth straight group phase win.

“After a shaky first half, we managed to take control in the last 15 minutes, and little things like the performance of our goalkeeper Kevin Möller decided this equal encounter.”

While Flensburg remain on top prior to their matches against Veszprem and Paris, Celje still have to wait for their first home win of the season and are three points below the sixth-ranked team on the table, Orlen Wisla Plock.

The 31:26 away win at Plock last week seemed to be a pure boost for Celje against Flensburg, who themselves were the clear 37:27 victory against THW Kiel last weekend. Conducted by incredible playmaker Miha Zarabec backed by the saves of goalkeeper Urban Lesjak and the goals of right wing Blaz Janc, Celje turned an early deficit into a clear lead at the break.

The Germans, who had a tough week with matches (and victories) against Kiel in the VELUX EHF Champions League and at Rhein-Neckar Löwen in the German league, lacked concentration after their initial 6:4 and 8:6 lead.

With a quadruple strike that took the score to 10:8, Celje claimed the upper hand and made their fans in Zlatorog Arena jump for joy. As their back court aces Thomas Mogensen and Holger Glandorf missed too many chances against Lesjak, Flensburg could not keep up with the hosts and Celje extended the gap to four goals at 15:11 right before the break.

But SG coach Vranjes delivered the right sermon in the dressing room: First his players equalised at 15:15. Then the 2014 Champions League winners took their first lead at 18:17, prompting a time-out from Celje’s coach Branko Tamse in minute 40.

The reasons the match turned around were obvious: Flensburg did not only increase their scoring percentage, but also stopped Zarabec’s organisation of Celje’s attack. And one player, who nobody had on the list before, rose like a Phoenix – young goalkeeper Kevin Möller. The Dane had replaced Flensburg’s usual number one keeper, Mattias Andersson, quite early and saved shot after shot.

From there the match turned into a rollercoaster ride. Celje scored four goals for 21:18, Flensburg equalised at 21:21, Celje forged ahead to 24:21, then Flensburg struck back to a 25:24 lead with five minutes left on the clock and a one-man advantage.

Adding two more goals to their tally for their first three-goal advantage at 27:24, secured with the eighth goal from top-scoring right wing Lasse Svan, boosted the German side’s confidence and caused another Celje time-out.

And finally when Anders Eggert scored for 29:26 with a penalty with 75 seconds left, the ninth straight win of Flensburg was confirmed and Celje had let a huge chance to move closer to the Last 16 slip from their hands.

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg