Brilliant Skjern and Flensburg take opening winsArticle
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GROUP B REVIEW: Skjern take the points from a thriller in Celje, Flensburg upset Nantes at home, and Szeged squeeze a win over Zagreb

Brilliant Skjern and Flensburg take opening wins

Despite missing injured key players Thomas Mogensen, Kasper Søndergaard and Rene Rasmussen, Skjern Handbold opened their VELUX EHF Champions League 2018/19 campaign by winning a thriller in Slovenia with a one-goal margin.

Sunday’s result in Nantes proved it was not a weekend for French teams. After Montpellier’s defeat on Saturday, their VELUX EHF Champions League 2017/18 Final opponents, HBC Nantes, also lost at home. SG Flensburg-Handewitt displayed impressive offensive firepower and though the home team man-aged to keep the pace in the first half, their efforts proved worthless after the break.

MOL-Pick Szeged also secured an away victory, pulling back a three-goal deficit after the first half to beat HC PPD Zagreb by a single net to take the two points.

  • Skjern’s goalkeepers save four penalties to play a key role in the season-opening win versus Celje
  • Five Skjern goals in a row swing a neck-and-neck game in the Danish side’s favour
  • Nantes lose their first home match in a European competition since November 2016, versus German side Flensburg
  • Benjamin Buric proves a key asset for Flensburg, with 14 saves
  • Szeged beat Zagreb for a fifth successive time, but in the tightest clash yet

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs Skjern Handbold (DEN) 26:27 (13:12)

Five Skjern goals in a row within six minutes in the second half were the decisive turning point in the first Champions League match ever between RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko and Skjern Handbold. Those five goals changed the score from 21:19 for Celje to 24:21 in Skjern’s favour, and even though the home team managed to come close near the end, the Danish champions never let go of the lead.

"We are pleased to win here in Celje. It is always hard to win away matches in the Champions league, so we are happy with the result. In the match of ups and downs we were luckier and won at the end," said Skjern coach Ole Norgaard after the game.

There were never more than two goals separating the teams in an equal first half, which was headlined by two fine goalkeepers: Klemen Ferlin for Celje and Björgvin Pal Gustavsson in the Skjern goal. The latter even crowned his stellar first 30 minutes by saving three penalties.

Skjern got the better start and a 2:0 lead, and after quarter of an hour, during which the teams alternated leading by one goal, the visitors earned a narrow upper hand again and a series of two-goal advantages. Towards half-time however, Celje benefitted from several mistakes from the visitors to claim a one-goal lead before the break.

Celje seemed on their way to deciding the match, as they pulled ahead by three goals for the first time at 18:15, eight minutes into the second half. But it did not take Skjern long to bounce back, and the visitors changed the course of the game with five goals in a row between the 46th and 52nd minute, 24:21.

Thanks to an effective 5-1 defensive system, the Slovenian champions reduced the deficit again, before a penalty save by Emil Nielsen in the Skjern goal robbed them of their last hope.

HBC Nantes (FRA) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) 31:34 (16:18)

It was the first Champions League match to take place in Beaulieu Arena, the setting of the EHF Cup 2013 Finals, and fans in Nantes witnessed a real thriller to mark the occasion. The intensity was high from the start, with neither team taking an advantage clearer than one goal before the 25th minute.

That was when a long-distance shot from Simon Jeppsson put the visitors two goals ahead, 16:14. Before that, Benjamin Buric and Arnaud Siffert had been trading saves, just as Hampus Wanne and Nicolas Claire answered each other’s goals. Though the German side were leading by two at half-time, everything was yet to be decided.


Back from the dressing-room, Flensburg not only carried on in the vein of their first half, but also improved defensively. While Rasmus Lauge Schmidt was firing on all cylinders, Buric carried on making saves, allowing his team to take a four-goal advantage, 27:23, 15 minutes from the end. The visitors managed to retain the lead all the way to the final whistle, with Magnus Röd and Jeppsson nullifying every effort from the home team to snatch a point.

With the 34:31 victory, Flensburg become the first team since Motor Zaporozhye, in November 2016, to win a Champions League game in Nantes, and start their new European season in the best fashion.

"They just played better than us, led the game and enforced the tempo. Our defence was too fragile and our goalkeepers did not save enough shots. It was too difficult tonight," said Nantes coach Thierry Anti, while Flensburg's Röd added: "We played very well and with our own style. Several goalkeeper saves enabled us to take the lead at half-time."

HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) 23:24 (12:9) 

The closest thing as you will get to a derby in Group B started in physical fashion, with not many goals scored.

After 20 minutes highlighted by defensive intensity and many turnovers, things started to gradually get better, especially for hosts Zagreb. With the help of a strong defence, the Croatian side conceded no goals in the last five minutes of the first half, while scoring three in a row, to get back to the dressing room with a three-goal advantage (12:9).

Szeged’s bad period did not last long, as the Hungarian side came back roaring into the game. A couple of saves by Marin Sego got the machine going, while Richard Bodo was finding the nets on the other side of the court.

Add to that a red card for Tin Kontrec and the momentum had definitely changed sides. Scoring a 7:1 run in less than 10 minutes, Szeged was then up by two.

Backed by a noisy home crowd, Zagreb did not give up, led by their captain Zlatko Horvat. Horvat was the game's top scorer with eight goals and he pulled his team back, making the score even at 20:20 with the end in sight.

A last-minute net from Richard Bodo put Szeged up again and despite having two chances to even the score in the final seconds of the game, Zagreb never managed to draw, finally being defeated 24:23.

TEXT: Peter Bruun / Kevin Domas / cg/jh