Two teams with very different objectives
March 1, 2017
PREVIEW – MATCH OF THE WEEK, GROUP B – While Rhein-Neckar Löwen still hope to win the group and skip the round of Last 16, Celje are struggling making it through to the knockout stages, when the two teams meet Thursday evening.
By Peter Bruun
RK Celje Pivovarna Lasko (SLO) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) Thursday, March 2, 2017, 19:00 CET
Unlike their opponents, Rhein-Neckar Löwen do not have to worry about their chances to proceed in the Champions League.
The German champions have secured their access to the round of Last 16 long ago. Only one point behind group leader HC Vardar, they still have a chance to take the top spot, in which case they will they will proceed directly to the quarter-final.
“Of course, it would be wonderful to win the group and go directly to the quarter-final.
“However, we do not have it in our own hands anymore and will simply have to do our homework, which means winning our two last group matches,” Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen told his club´s website.
For the host, the situation is completely different. Celje are struggling to simply reach the next round. And stability has not exactly been a trade mark of the Slovenian champions as of late.
A 27:28 defeat at home against Kristianstad, a 34:33 win also at home against Kielce and a 30:35 loss on the road against Vardar are Celje´s three most recent results.
In their first meeting this season, back on September 28th, Rhein-Neckar Löwen secured a narrow 31:30 victory. The win was the German sides´ eighth success in nine European games against Celje.
Only once before have Celje been successful against the “Lions” – on November 23, 2014, the Slovenians won a group match 32:28 at home.
Duel of the Match – Part One: Janc vs Groetzki
Two of the most entertaining wings will be on the court on Thursday evening.
20-year-old shooting star Blaz Janc on Celje´s right wing position has already proven his world class. 63 goals from his left hand so far in the Champions League is just one but important data point confirming it.
Patrick Groetzki may not have such an outstanding statistic for Rhein-Neckar Löwen. However, this is partly explained by his absence due to injury and because more Löwen players participate in scoring goals.
Still, we can look forward to enjoying two exceptional handball players on right wing.
Duel of the Match – Part Two: Lesjak vs Appelgren
Actually, Slovenian handball has always been good at producing excellent goalkeepers, and Urban Lesjak confirms the rule.
He has been performing at a high level as of late – for the national team winning the bronze medal at the World Championship in January as well as in his club team.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s, Mikael Appelgren is not far behind. The winners of the goalkeeper duel is likely to bring his team a long way towards victory.
“Dvorana Zlatorog” arena in Celje is no easy place for any team to take points. Kielce can attest to it.
But, Rhein-Neckar Löwen should be stronger and get the job done. I assign the odds at 55:45 in favor of the visitors.