Nantes stop Skjern’s offence to take first two pointsArticle
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GROUP B REVIEW: 2017/18 runners-up Nantes get first victory, Celje celebrate change of coach with success, Szeged keep perfect record

Nantes stop Skjern’s offence to take first two points

Group B saw six teams in action today, with last year’s losing finalists Nantes opening their 2018/19 account by beating Skjern at home, following losses against Flensburg and Szeged in the first two rounds. After an even first half, the key of the game was Bjarte Myrhol’s knee injury, which forced the visitors’ line player to leave the game.  Coincidence or not, the hosts broke away shortly after, relying on fast-breaks by David Balaguer and Valero Rivera.

Sometimes, changing coach is a good solution when your team is going through a bad period and for Celje, it worked as with Tomaz Ocvirk on the bench, the Slovenian side grabbed its first two points of the season against Flensburg with defence key in the game as the home side only conceded 20 goals.

Hungarian side Pick Szeged remain unbeaten after three rounds, and are full of fire, leading by seven at one point in the second half in their match against Ukrainian side Zaporozhye, but after taking their foot off of the pedal a little too soon they managed to ride out the storm in the last seconds.

  • With their 33:25 win, Nantes remain unbeaten by Skjern after three encounters
  • The French side get its first two points of the season, while Skjern remain on four
  • Celje’s win against German side is the first time since 2014 they have taken points against Flensburg
  • Top scorer for Celje was Jaka Malus with five, one more than Rasmus Lauge Schmidt and Holger Glandorf for Flensburg
  • Despite being down by seven in the 38th minute, Motor Zaporozhye came back against Pick Szeged and even had the chance to equalise in the last seconds
  • Hungarian team remain undefeated after three games, while Zaporozhye have yet to cash in their first point


HBC Nantes (FRA) vs Skjern Handbold (DEN) 35:27 (17:16)

After losing their first two games in the competition, Nantes were hoping to get their hands on their first points, despite playing without Romain Lagarde, Olivier Nyokas and Eduardo Gurbindo.

During the first moments of the game, though, Skjern seemed superior. Saves from Bjorgvin Pall Gustavsson gave his teammates opportunities to score which Anders Eggert gladly accepted, scoring four in just 20 minutes as the Danish left-winger gave his team the first two-goal advantage after 18 minutes (11-9).

While Skjern relied on team cohesion, Nantes used individual skills to stay in the game with Nicolas Claire making a good impression in particular and then three consecutive goals by David Balaguer suddenly put the French side ahead, and they went into the half-time break one up (17:16).

The start of the second half was a disaster for Skjern. Line player Bjarte Myrhol had to be carried off of the court, suffering a knee injury, while Nantes took their first three-goal advantage of the game (20:17). Not having to control one of the biggest Danish threats, it felt like the hosts were finally taking control of the pace, forcing Skjern to play slower than what they usually do.

Balaguer again helped put his side in front further, increasing Nantes advantage to four with his seventh goal, 15 minutes from the end as the last quarter belonged all to the hosts.
If they had trouble containing Eivind Tangen earlier, Skjern’s right-back was not finding the solution, providing Valero Rivera with fast-break opportunities and when the Spanish winger converted one of those in the 50th minute to put his team ahead by seven, Nantes were near-certain to get the two points which they eventually did, winning 33:25.

“It was important to earn our first two points at home, especially after two losses in the Champions League so far,” said HBC Nantes coach Thierry Anti after the match. “We knew it would be hard as we played tough games against Skjern last year.”

RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER) 23:20 (10:11)

A tight first half played out in Slovenia as both teams exchanged goals with Drasko Nenadic the main scorer for Celje while the visitors found solutions through Holger Glandorf with Rasmus Lauge Schmidt having an unusually bad day.

As a consequence, both teams were tied after 17 minutes (7:7) but gradually, Flensburg’s defence started to take over, with Benjamin Buric making a couple of impressive saves. In his wake, his team created a small gap, culminating in three goals shortly before the break (11:8). But just as they did in their previous outings, the host team did not keep their heads down for long and scored twice before going back to the dressing room, keeping their hopes alive for the second half as they found themselves just one goal (11:10) down.

After the break they did even better thanks to a tougher defence as Klemen Ferlin was on fire between the posts and the Slovenian team took the lead. First, they evened the score, before pushing further as the end was getting near.

Flensburg coach Maik Machulla tried everything, even playing with seven men on court, but to no success as he watched his side score just once between the 45-55th minutes which was not enough for the German champions, especially as Celje were scoring empty net goals through Branko Vujovic and Ferlin. With a four-goal lead in the 53rd minute, the result looked set in stone, and by the end, Celje’s advantage was three.

“The result tells it all,” summarised succinctly Flensburg coach Maik Machulla after the match. “We are very disappointed that we did not win and how we played as we missed to many clear chances and did not score good enough.” For Celje coach Tomaz Ocvirk the game was won in the heads. “This was a very emotional match,” he said. “It is the first time on the top level and this kind of victory - we were calm enough and believed in ourselves and believed that we could win.

“At the end we did it and I have to take my hat off to all the guys for their performance.”

HC Motor Zaporozhye (UKR) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) 31:32 (13:19)

Despite playing away from home, Szeged made the better start, perhaps relying on the trust they gathered in the first two games. With strong defensive and offensive tactics relying heavily on their line player Bence Banhidi, the visitors were quickly up by three (6:3) after seven minutes.

Despite right-handers Zakhar Denysov and Aliaksei Shynkel giving their best, the visitors steadily kept their advantage for most of the first half. They even increased it, not letting the home team score for seven minutes and taking a six-goal lead shortly before the break (14:8). With Mario Sostaric firing on all cylinders and scoring five in 30 minutes, the visitors kept their advantage up to the break (19:13).

The second half was all about Szeged controlling the match and not letting their opponents come too close and as they continued to find scoring solutions, this was not too hard a mission.

If the first half belonged to Banhidi, the second one was Dean Bombac’s. The centre back used his experience to keep his teammates calm and even scored a few for himself, but this did not prevent Motor trying their best to come back – and they did.  Narrowing the gap to one in the 55th minute (30-29) they were playing with fire as the Hungarian team took their foot off the pedal too soon as they were under threat right until the end until a last-minute goal from Zsolt Balogh, his third, ensured the valuable two points, 32:31.

"Today we saw two absolutely different halves," said Szeged coach Juan Carlos Pastor Gomez. "In the first half we played very well, but in the second half we had no difference and lost seven balls as Motor continued to run and fight. Fortunately, we made two important saves in the end, but, nevertheless, it was very difficult for us to win today. I have to say that Motor are doing a very good job, and I am sure it will be a hard task for all teams to win here in Zaporozhye".

On the other bench, Zaporozhye coach Patryk Rombel admitted that the opening 30 minutes provided the conclusion already. "The first half decided the game," he said. "We made six losses and that was the difference between the teams. In the second half we improved our performance and made only one loss as my players showed their character. It is the third game in a row where we lost five or six balls in the first half and then tried to fill the gaps, but, unfortunately, we did not succeed".

TEXT: Kevin Domas/amc