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03.03.2016, 21:00
Zagreb miss historic victory at Kiel
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GROUP A REVIEW: THW turn around five-goal deficit to beat the brave fighting Croats 31:29 in Germany
 

Zagreb miss historic victory at Kiel

With nothing to play for in terms of Group A positioning in the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase, pride was at stake in the Sparkassen Arena in Kiel.

Thanks to home side THW Kiel already confirmed in fourth place before the game, like their opponents, HC PPD Zagreb, in fifth, the honour of the win and to make the fans happy for both sides, was foremost in the minds of the players and coaches.

GROUP A

THW Kiel (GER) vs RK PPD Zagreb (CRO) 31:29 (14:17)

Zagreb were five goals ahead after half-time, but finally missed their historic chance to win their second-ever match at Sparkassen following their 28:24 victory back in 2002.

Both sides now wait for group B to finish at the weekend to see who their Last 16 opponents will be with Rhein-Neckar Löwen, HC Vardar or MOL-Pick Szeged set to provide the next hurdle.

Zagreb, clearly the better team until the 35th minute, the performance of both THW goalkeepers and the will to win of Kiel’s Croatian-born top scorer Domagoj Duvnjak (10 goals from 11 attempts) were the keys to success.

“Zagreb are a really strong team with better options from the bench than us,” said Kiel’s coach Alfred Gislason. “It was a real tough job for us to turn the match around, but Duvnjak and how he has been playing in recent weeks is simply incredible.”

In terms of the Last 16, Gislason does not have a special wish.  “In a stage like this, there are no more easy opponents,” he said. “We hope to have Christian Dissinger back in the squad then.”

Duvnjak was happy with the two points, although the significance of them was not that high as previous results.

“We lost the first match against them by seven goals in Zagreb,” he explained. “We all wanted to take revenge, but it was hard, really hard.”

After an equal first 20 minutes, with THW already having problems coping with Zagreb’s defence, the Croatian side then took control, as the host’s performance became lacklustre. Turnovers, missed passes or failing against Zagreb goalkeeper Ivan Stevanovic, Kiel were below their normally high levels in attack and could not stop the upswing from the visitors.

Led by the extraordinary Luka Sebetic, who scored six from six before the break (eight in total) and backed by their movable and perfectly adapted defence, Zagreb marched ahead goal by goal and silenced the home fans right before the half-time buzzer with a four-goal advantage to make it 16:12.

Except Duvnjak, who tried hard to keep the rhythm of his team alive against his former club, and goalkeeper Nikolas Katsigiannis, all the THW players were well below par - and right after the break (17:14), when the Croatian record-holding champions forged ahead even further (19:14) thanks to a double strike after two more easy Kiel mistakes.

However, going five down was the wake-up call for the hosts and at (20:15) they did not want to lose their second VELUX EHF Champions League match of the season on home soil after the 30:26 loss against Paris Saint-Germain in November -  after an impressive run of being unbeaten at home for over four years previously.

Thanks to Katsigiannis, an improvement in the attacking efficiency and some surprising back court hammer shots from regular left wing Dominik Klein, Kiel were back on track after a 7:1 series saw them go 22:21 up in the 44th minute.

Zagreb were hit even harder five minutes later, when Leon Susnja received a direct disqualification and red card after what appeared to be an elbow against the attacking Christian Sprenger.

Kiel were not safe yet though as they continued to cause many turnovers and misplaced their passes to forge ahead decisively.

But they were helped by Zagreb who could not score for more than six minutes and Kiel took their first, and decisive, two-goal advance after their earlier 9:7, with seven minutes left to go ahead 26:24.

When Estonian Dener Jaanimaa netted for Kiel to put them three-up at 28:25, the deal was sealed, and in what is a strong sign, the German side turned a weak performance into a normal, stronger one in the final 20 minutes to take their third-straight VELUX EHF Champions League victory.


TEXT: Bjorn Pazen/amc
 
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