First two teams in EHF Champions League Quarter Finals are Rhein Neckar Lowen and Chekhovskie Medvedi.
Chekhovskie Medvedi (RUS) – Bosna Sarajevo (BIH) 30:17 (11:9)
With their second clear victory against Bosna Sarajevo the Bears had no problems qualifying to be amongst the eight top teams – and will find themselves in Pot 1 on Monday when the next round draw is staged in Vienna.
It took 30 minutes but then the Bears from Chekhov started stepped up into express mode. After the clear 31:22 away victory in Sarajevo the Russians needed one half to find their rhythm in the return match.
Surprisingly Bosna were in lead until the 15th (5:4) after a starting period weak in goals. But after some loud words from coach Vladimir Maximov during a time-out in the 22nd minute Chekhov improved and equalized for the first time taking the score to 7:7.
Thanks to three straight goals and an improved defence, Chekhov took over the control.
At the break (11:9) Bosna were still in with a shout of a good result, but with additional six straight Russian goals at 12:10 the match was decided. Bosna resigned and in the 51st minute the gap was ten goals for the first time at 24:14, in a match with a lot of suspensions and penalties.
Scoring only eight goals after the break the Bosnians did not have any chance of standing the physical power and speed of the Russians Bears, who were able to count once again on the saves of goalkeeper, Oleg Grams.
Rhein Neckar Löwen (GER) – RK Croatia Ossiguranje Zagreb (CRO) 27:27 (11:9)
The 31:28 victory in Zagreb was worth its weight in gold for the Löwen: The return match on home ground was a thrilling game for the Germans but in the end they qualified for the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarterfinals for the second time.
Just as in 2010 (by Barcelona) Zagreb were eliminated in the Last 16 – and just as in 2008 they tied 27:27, this time against the Löwen.
Both teams played close to perfection in defence in the first half – so only four field goals were scored in total after 15 minutes.
Apart from both goalkeepers, Slawomir Szmal (Löwen) and Marin Sego (Zagreb) played well.
But Löwen lacked ideas and movement in attack. Also Zagreb had to wait long for the inspiration of Ivano Balic as their top star suffered from a knee injury and did not have so much playing time before the break.
In the first 30 minutes Löwen were in the lead most of the time – but could not increase the gap intermediately due to the number of errors in attack.
Every time it counted they could rely on Olafur Stefansson who scored the crucial goals. His third goal took the score to10:7 – the first three goal difference – the fourth, the starter after the break.
Balic returning to the court more often – cheered loudly by the huge number of Croatian spectators in Mannheim – Zagreb improved, though not just because of Balic’s goals and they equalized at 12:12 in the 35th minute.
In this period only Grzegorz Tkaczyk kept the Löwen in the game, scoring three goals in four minutes.
But the Croats kept up with the Germans and with two outstanding goalkeepers and some “magic goals” from top scorer Uwe Gensheimer (in total nine).
With ten minutes to go Zagreb had leveled the score again at 19:19 – and still had a chance of a place in the Quarterfinals. It was Tkaczyk, who was to blow out the candle of hopes with three more goals at 23:21 – in addition Löwen led with four goals.
On the other side Löwen could not stop David Spiler, Zagreb’s best scorer with nine goals, who broke through the German defence very easily.
It was Ivano Balic who brought the first lead to the Croats exactly four minutes before the end at the 24:23.
Three more goals were missing for the sensation but goals by Stefansson and Gensheimer turned the match again at 25:24 in a highly tense final stage.
Even though Zagreb leveled at the end, the decision was taken earlier, as it was obvious that the three goal gap was a too big a burden for the Croats.
Statements after the match:
Ivica Obrvan, coach Zagreb: “The draw is a success for us, as we had to replace four injured players – and Balic and Valcic could not play at 100 percent. It was a great pleasure to play in this arena. I think Löwen are a candidate for the FINAL4 and even could even win the Champions League this season.”
Marko Kopljar, player Zagreb: “We missed the Quarterfinals in the first match in Zagreb, not today. Our defence and goalkeeping were much better than on Sunday, but as Löwen have much more alternatives on the bench they qualified for the next stage.”
Gudmundur Gudmundsson, coach Löwen: “It was a huge piece of work against a very strong opponent. It was obvious before that this would be a tough match. Before the break our defence and goalkeeper were good and the attack was weak, and after the break the attack improved in the same time as the defence became weaker. I am very satisfied that we have reached the Quarterfinals which means a big success for our club after tough Group Matches and Last 16 games.”
Ivan Cupic, player Löwen: “Like I said in Zagreb, today was the second half of a match. After winning the first and having a tie in the second we are through now. Zagreb were clearly better compared to the first leg, but in the crucial stage Gensheimer and Tkaczyk scored the decisive goals. It was unfortunate that our final attacks did not end with a goal, because I would have liked to win this game.”
TEXT: Björn Pazen (EHFCL.COM)