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27.03.2016, 22:20
Incredible Zagreb shock Löwen in their home den
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LAST 16 REVIEW: The Croatian side record the biggest surprise of the season so far with a 31:29 win to book two quarter-finals against PSG.
 

Incredible Zagreb shock Löwen in their home den

HC Prvo plinarsko drustvo Zagreb made history on Sunday night in Mannheim: For the first time since 1997 the Croatian record champions eliminated a German side in the knock-out stage of the EHF Champions League. 19 years ago Zagreb beat THW Kiel, and on Sunday evening they defeated Rhein-Neckar Löwen in an incredible thriller.

“This was the most equal encounter of all the Last 16. I told my players to keep their belief for the second leg,” Zagreb coach Veselin Vujovic explained his tactics, adding: “Unfortunately one of two brilliant teams is now out of the competition.”

Zagreb’s Stanko Sabljic could not really believe what had happened: “We always kept our confidence, we were well prepared, and the most important fact was that we managed to reduce the gap to only two goals at the break. This was the base for the win.”

After being down for 57 minutes, the bravely fighting Croats turned the tide in the last minutes. When Dobrivoje Markovic netted for 31:29 20 seconds before the final buzzer, Zagreb’s dream of proceeding to the quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain came true, while Löwen repeated their disappointing elimination of 2015 (against Szeged) in that stage of the competition.

The defeat marked the last international match for Uwe Gensheimer in the Löwen jersey, as he moves to PSG next season: “This young Zagreb team played quick and tactically well-adapted. But life has to go on now, for me and our team.”

VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16, Second Leg
Rhein Neckar Löwen (GER) vs RK PPD Zagreb (CRO) 29:31 (15:13)
RK PPD Zagreb win 54:53 on aggregate

Despite missing five injured players, the Croats stood strong in defence and were backed by goals from Stefan Vujic and Stipe Mandalinic in the first half. The match was level until 7:7, when Löwen coach Nikolaj Jakobsen rang the wake-up bell for his team.

The hosts were more efficient in attack than before, caused a huge number of turnovers and forged ahead to 12:8 thanks to their counter attack goals and the individual class of playmaker Andy Schmid (top scorer with seven goals). Two minutes before the break, the advance had increased to 15:10 – and all seemed safe and well for 2013 EHF Cup winners.

But by strengthening their defence, Zagreb put pressure on the hosts, reduced the gap to 13:15 at the half-time buzzer and then were constantly down by only one goal. Line player Leon Susnja, who was injured during the warm-up, clenched his teeth and caused problems for Löwen’s defence.

But the Croats could not equalise in the early and mid-stages of the second half. Every time they netted in for a deficit of one they conceded another Löwen strike, but even when the host forged ahead to another three-goal advantage Zagreb did not surrender.

Ten minutes before the end, Luka Sebetic made the fistful of RK fans in SAP Arena go wild, when he finally levelled at 25:25.

In minute 56 Zagreb’s first lead was on the score board when Vujic netted for 27:26, immediately followed by their next strike for 28:26 and the final Löwen time-out.

With help from goalkeeper Ivan Stevanovic, who visibly won the goalkeeper duel against the Löwen duo of Borko Ristovski and Mikael Appelgren, Zagreb held on till the end and remain on the road to Cologne.



Löwen coach Jakobsen was very disappointed: “We missed a great opportunity to proceed to the top eight, but in the crucial period at the end of the first half we missed too many chances. We could have been ahead by seven goals at the break, but it was only two – this was decisive. After the break, Zagreb’s defence and goalkeeping was stronger than ours – this was the key.”


TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg
 
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