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25.03.2016, 13:20
Rhein-Neckar Löwen confident they will keep roaring
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LAST 16 PREVIEW: It is only one goal that separates Rhein-Neckar Löwen and HC PPD Zagreb ahead of the team’s second leg in the Last 16, but with their home fans backing them the odds look to be in German team’s favour
 

Rhein-Neckar Löwen confident they will keep roaring

Thanks to their close 24:23 win in Zagreb, Rhein-Neckar Löwen have the best chances to proceed to the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-finals for the fifth time in the club’s history.

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Sunday, 27 March 19:30 CET live on ehfTV

The 24:23 win against HC PPD Zagreb last weekend has propelled Rhein-Neckar Löwen firmly into the driving seat ahead of the two teams’ second encounter in the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16.

The Croatian record champions still have to wait for their first win against the German side. Overall the two squads drew three times and on four occasions Rhein-Neckar Löwen left the court victorious.

But Löwen head coach Nikolaj Jacobsen says that a fifth win is far away from being a given.

“The first half is over; nothing is decided despite the narrow away win. We have to be fully focused even though the Zagreb’s away performances aren’t usually as successful as their home ones.”

A win at Celje and a draw at Plock are the only away points on Zagreb’s tally to date, but head coach Veselin Vujovic remains confident.

“60 minutes still have to be played. And for example our performance at Kiel proved that we can spring a surprise (Zagreb led 17:14 at the break but eventually lost 29:31). We are the underdogs in Mannheim, but we try to be better in the second leg than we were in the first match.”

Focus on Ristovski and Stevanovic

Once again it is likely that the two goalkeepers will play a crucial role.

“Borko Ristovski was our match winner in Zagreb, and I hope he can play the same role at home,” says Löwen right back Harald Reinkind.

Ristovski, who joined the German team only in January, has become the first-choice goalkeeper and builds brilliant duo with Swede Mikael Appelgren.

On the other hand, Zagreb’s goalkeepers Ivan Stevanovic and Filip Ivic can also decide a match themselves.

Löwen playmaker Andy Schmid says that the “one-goal advantage for a second leg means nothing. We need to stand strong and have to play as we did against Kielce, Vardar or Barcelona on home ground.”

The 32:32 draw against Kielce was the only point which Löwen allowed to slip from from their hands in home matches of the current VELUX EHF Champions League season.

But they have not forgotten their last defeat at home: It was in last season’s Last16 when their hopes to make it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 were shattered by a 30:34 loss against Pick Szeged.

“Last year, we weren’t focused enough, this should not happen again,” says Schmid.

Zagreb eliminated Kolding in last season’s Last16, but the odds for a repetition of this feat are much lower this time – in March 2015 they had built a perfect base with a 22:17 win at home.

The winner of Sunday’s match faces a thrilling opponent in the quarter-final: ahead: Paris Saint-Germain Handball, the winners of Group A, who went straight among the last eight teams.

If Zagreb proceed, they have the chance to revenge the two defeats they suffered in the group phase against Paris.

If Löwen clinch their quarter-final berth, it will be two special matches for team captain and left wing Uwe Gensheimer as he will join Paris after this season.


TEXT: Björn Pazen / ts
 
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