By Sascha Staat
INTERVIEW – Tomorrow, Rhein-Neckar Löwen will try to keep their last title-hope of the season alive, when they face HBC Nantes, in France, in the return leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League. A quarterfinal awaits, or not?
After yesterday’s stunning loss to lowly VfL Gummersbach it appears as if all hope is lost. After the match, I spoke with Lion’s head coach, Nikolaj Jacobsen, about the prospects ahead of the crucial match against Nantes.
Nikolaj, you just lost against one of the worst teams in the league. You must be very disappointed?
NJ: For me, this has been the worst game in my five years as Löwen coach. We led 5:1 and then we tried to win without effort. In the first half, we had many bad shots. Jerry Tollbring had to play, although he wasn’t at 100%, as Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson had issues with his calf muscle. So, we missed contributions from the left-wing position. It was one of the reasons why we lost.
What about the team’s mental preparedness?
NJ: Basically, we didn’t have the right attitude and didn’t try 100%. We got closer in the second half, but they kept scoring from twelve meters out, although our defense was quite OK.
Was the game in Nantes already on your mind?
NJ: No, I wouldn’t say so. It’s not the first time this season that we didn’t play well. Usually we fight through these situations. That’s what disappoints me the most, that we didn’t have the fighting spirit. It’s impossible to play well every time, but you have to fight all the time.
Did you take Gummersbach serious?
NJ: We did – the first few minutes showed it clearly. But, then only a few things worked out for us and just a few players played well. We went down as a team and that’s very disappointing – we didn’t even fight.
Did you already talk to the team about it?
NJ: Yes, I did. We won’t be able to do much about it as we play on Saturday already. We have to get our heads up, quickly, but I’m not too optimistic. It’s a shame because we were on the right track in our practice sessions. Today, it looked different.
How will you make sure that the team will regain confidence when you have problems to believe in your players?
NJ: It’s difficult when you lose by five in Gummersbach.
What kind of game do you expect in Nantes, as you could have even won by a higher margin in the first leg?
NJ: The problem is, that every time we take a step forward we take two steps back. Losing in Gummersbach the way we did is a huge step back for us. Before the game, we talked about the importance of winning, so we can travel to Nantes with a good feeling. That’s certainly not the case, now.
Did your players disappoint you?
NJ: Yes – as I said, in my five years with the club the match today probably was the worst game of all, considering the attitude of my players.
What kind of difference will Nicolas Claire make, now that he is back for Nantes?
NJ: It will provide Nantes with a lot more options. But, they scored enough goals without him (in the first leg ed.). For us it will be important to be more focused when defending and we have to support our goalkeepers much better. For sure, Claire is a world-class playmaker. On Wednesday, he played very well in the second half and it will be a huge challenge for us.
What makes you believe that you’ll come out on top?
NJ: If you ask me right now, not much! We just lost by five goals to Gummersbach, so I’m not very hopeful. First, I have to clear my mind, think about everything really well and then we’ll try to get the players back on track.