Kristianstad knock Kielce out of the race for top positionArticle
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GROUP B REVIEW: The series of sensational results continues, as Brest beat Vardar and Kristianstad leave defending champions Kielce behind

Kristianstad knock Kielce out of the race for top position

Everything is open in Group B, all major decisions are postponed until the 14th and final round next week. After RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko beat Rhein Neckar Löwen on Thursday, the underdogs took the upper hand again on Saturday: HC Meshkov Brest left HC Vardar behind and IFK Kristianstad beat defending champions KS Vive Tauron Kielce. Thus, the Polish side is out for the race for the top position, being two points below Vardar and after losing the direct encounter against the Macedonian champions.

Vardar, who facing Kristianstad at home next week, are one point ahead of Rhein-Neckar Löwen, who will host of Szeged next week, before the final round. A draw is enough for Vardar to finish on top.

Kristianstad can make it to the Last 16, as they are ahead of Zagreb now. Zagreb and Celje face next in a direct duel for the Last16.

  • It was Kielce's third defeat in their fourth group match in 2017

  • In case of a draw at Brest, Vardar would take the top spot

  • Celje (9 points), Kristianstad (8) and Zagreb (7) fight for the last Last16 ticket in the final round

  • Brest’s back court shooters Vladislav Ostroushko and Dainis Kristopans were top scorers on Saturday with eight goals each

  • Szeged still finish in second position, if they win at Löwen next week and Kielce lose against Brest


MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) 26:21 (14:12)

Like in the first leg, when they won 26:24 in the Croatian capital, Szeged were victorious on home ground. This win is truly important for Szegad, as the Hungarian runners-ups lost their three previous groups matches. Match winners were goalkeeper Jose Manuel Sierra Mendez with and extraordinary 14 saves, and right back Zsolt Balogh with seven goals.

After three points from their last two matches, and due to the fact that their rival team Celje started the 13th round victorious, Zagreb’s confidence- and will to win- was strong in the early stages of the match. Backed by a strong defence, the Croatian champions were always ahead or equal until the 10:10- then Szeged managed to turn the tide. Boosted by the goals of their back court aces Sergei Gorbok and Zsolt Balogh, Juan Carlos Pastor’s team took the lead- and kept it until the end.

Zagreb tried everything, including the use of a seventh court player, but could not get ahead before the halftime buzzer. One reason for Szeged’s dominance was goalkeeper Sierra Mendez, who saved eight shots in the first half, allowing his team to keep the 14:12 advantage at the break.

Zagreb still had problems scoring after the break, which caused many turnovers. When Swedish wing Jonas Källman scored his fifth goal to make it 21:15 in minute 44, the outcome was clear. Zagreb bowed out, while the fans in Szeged waved their flags.

Szegad's head coach Juan Carlos Pastor was happy with the outcome: "It was a very important victory today. Congratulations for my players for today's performance, they played with huge heart. The defense and the excellent goalkeeper proved decisive today, especially in the second half. The turning point came when we started to lead by 4 goals. Congratulations for the supporters, because they pushed the team to victory for 60 minutes. We need to rest, and recover for the match on Wednesday."

IFK Kristianstad (SWE) vs KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) 29:25 (15:13)

Satisfaction with victory against Szeged last weekend was short lived for the defending champions, as on Saturday Kielce were beaten for the third time in four group matches this year. The Swedish victors were dancing on the court, when the deal was sealed- and they fully deserved their win.

Twenty-two saves from the outstanding goalkeeper duo Nebojsa Simic and Leo Larsson- including four saved penalty shots- were the key for the latest upset against a top team at Kristianstad. Kielce were below par in all departments. After it was 11:11 in minute 25, the hosts were in full swing. Another crucial part of the match was the Swedish defence line- who managed to keep Kielce’s line player Julen Aguinagalde almost completely out of the match. He only scored only four times- in contrast to his eight goals last week against Szeged.

Kielce had their strongest period of the second half at the start, as they turned the 13:15 deficit into a 20:19 lead. But within 14 minutes, Kristianstad decided the match, scoring an 8:2 series for the 27:22 lead, mainly led by Simic’s saves and the goals of Philipp Henningsson, who - like Tim Sörensen - was top scorer for the victors with six goals.

Thus, the Swedish champions can still hope to proceed. However their fate is not in their own hands, as they are one point below Celje. They also face a tough match against Vardar next weekend.

Meshkov Brest (BLR) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 30:26 (14:12)

Vardar missed a huge opportunity to secure the top position before the final round, while Brest now have the chance to finish in fourth position in the final ranking. Like in the first leg of this encounter (31:27) the hosts were victorious by a four goal margin- however, this time it was Brest who were victorious.

Thanks to a stunning performance from the Croatian born goalkeeper Ivan Pesic, who saved a total of 14 shots, and great performances in defence, the hosts were ahead at the break after a shaky start. After being ahead by 7:5, Vardar lost their pace and rhythm. At 10:10 Vardar’s coach Raul Gonzalez called for a time-out, however nothing changed for Vardar after this. Backed by Vladislav Ostrouhko, who was unstoppable in the first 30 minutes- netting five goals from six attempts, the Belarusian champions moved ahead to their two goals advantage at the break and even extended the gap to three right after the re-start.

Vardar were only strong from counter-attacks and wing goals, but when Brest managed to stop the advances of Ivan Cupic and Timur Dibirov, the Macedonians were stuck. From minute 23 to minute 36, Brest had turned a 11:12 into a 18:14 -and the fans on the stands went crazy. The 2.13 metre tall Dainis Kristopans was on fire, netting in from all cylinders.

When his team was down by 16:20 after only 38 minutes, Gonzalez was forced to take his next time-out. But scoring a double strike was all at the moment, as Brest were only shaken a little, but definitely did not fall. After the 20:18, a series of Kristopans goals sealed a quite comfortable 25:19 lead. And finally the eighth hammer from the tall Latvian shooter was the decisive one for the 29:23 four minutes before the end. Like Ostrouhko, Kristopans was on eight goals at the final whistle.

Top scorers for Vardar scorers were the Croatians Ivan Cupic and Igor Karacic with five goals each.

Artsiom Kulak, centre back for Brest was delighted with the outcome, and Pesic's performance: "Good game. We were very motivated, fighted for every ball. Vardar played very quick handball. We lost many easy goals in the first half. I would like to stress Ivan Pesic's outstanding performance. He helped us to get the lead and that helped us to win."

TEXT: Björn Pazen/kc