MATCH REVIEW – With a well deserved 28:25 home win against ruling champions Kielce, Rhein-Neckar Löwen added welcomed excitement in Group B, where the top teams moved even closer together.
By Peter Bruun
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) 28:25 (16:13)
Before the Match
Rhein-Neckar Löwen were fourth in the group with 11 points, while Kielce were on top with 14. Between the two of them were Pick Szeged with 13 and HC Vardar with 12 points, respectively.
Both teams were virtually assured of reaching the round of “Last 16” but either one was looking for best position, to avoid strong opponents or possibly move right to the quarter-finals, in case of a group win.
Kielce wanted to avenge the 26:34 defeat at home against Löwen back in the fall – Kielce´s only loss at home in the tournament, so far this season.
Harald Reinkind and Mads Mensah Larsen were back on the Löwen roster following their injuries and so were Dejan Bombac and Uros Zorman (Kielce).
The return of Bombac and Zorman set the stage for an interesting duel between the playmakers – Andy Schmid (Löwen) on the one side and Bombac/Zorman (Kielce) on the other.
There wasn’t really any doubt about the outcome of this match. Löwen were in the lead all the time and in control all the way, even though Kielce came close a few times.
However, Kielce’s coach, Talant Dujshehaev, did not come up with any tactical moves that could have change the course of this game. As a matter of fact, he clearly “lost” the coaching contest between him and Nikolaj Jacobsen.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen got off to the far better start.
Soon, the home team took a 3:0 lead and stayed ahead for the rest of half. Löwen´s aggressive 6-0 defense proved to be a tough match for Kielce´s attacking play. And an excellent performance of Löwen goalkeeper, Andrea Palicka, allowed for a significant number of counter attacks and some easy goals.
Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson was the main beneficiary of some well-timed passing. The Icelandic veteran on Löwen´s left wing became the highest scoring player before the break with five goals.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen only had 13 names on their team sheet, while Kielce had a full roster.
But, even though Talant Dujshebaev had more options than his counterpart, Nikolaj Jacobsen, it did not really pay off.
Jacobsen used the resources that were available to him wisely, and as long as Andy Schmid was on the court orchestrating his team’s offense, it did not matter what other players the coach placed around him. Especially, Kim Ekdahl du Rietz was shining with some spectacular goals from distance.
Actually, Nikolaj Jacobsen only made one unsuccessful move if you want to call it as such. With 12 minutes left, and five goals up, he ordered seven-agains-six play for the first time in the match. It only took him six minutes to abandon the idea again.
At that point, Kielce had reduced the deficit to two goals (25:23). But Löwen managed to defend a last Polish push and top scorer Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson sealed the victory at 28:24 with less than a minute left on the game clock. Dejan Bombac´s only goal of the match, in the last second, was of cosmetic value.
Player of the Match
Before the game, Andy Schmid stated that the “World Cup break” had done him good.
This evening, he demonstrated his superb form. The brilliant Swiss playmaker serving plenty of well-timed assists had a decisive role in Löwen’s success, once again.
Once again, it wasn’t possible to fill SAP Arena for a Champions League match, but those who did attend, provided their team with some fine support.
Now, Rhein-Neckar Löwen, in second position (13 points), trailing Kielce by just one point, are fully engaged in a tight battle for the group win.
Next up for Nikolaj Jacobsen´s men will be a visit to Swedish champion, IFK Kristianstad, a club that Löwen lost against last season (29:32). Kielce will be travelling to Slovenia to face Celje.
In the other match in Group B on Thursday evening, HC Meshkov Brest achieved a minor surprise, winning 25:23 at home against Pick Szeged.