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25.02.2018, 19:20
Nantes keep battle for top spot open, Löwen put Plock under pressure
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GROUP A REVIEW: Vardar fail to lock up the No. 1 position in the group and book a place in the quarter-finals after a narrow defeat in France, while the Lions snatch a 32:27 victory that means Plock must win against Vardar in the last round if they hope to reach the Last 16
 

Nantes keep battle for top spot open, Löwen put Plock under pressure

HBC Nantes held on to a big half-time lead to edge leaders HC Vardar 27:26 in VELUX EHF Champions League Group A on Sunday. An underwhelming start was the least of Vardar's problem as the Macedonian team were left wondering about their away woes after losing the second consecutive away game.

The French side will travel to Löwen next week, while Vardar need a win against Plock in the last round to secure the first place and a quarter-final berth.

In the final Round 13 match, Rhein-Neckar Löwen secured fourth place in the group with a win against Orlen Wisla Plock, leaving the Polish side level with Zagreb and Kristianstad on the group table. The three teams, all on six points, remain locked in a tussle for the last qualifying place in the group.

• Vardar outscore Nantes 9:3 in the last 15 minutes, but still come up short
• Nantes are now second with 19 points, while Vardar still lead with 20
• Vardar lose for the second time this season, two weeks after their defeat against Barcelona
• Icelandic left wing Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson scores 10 times for Löwen as they defeat Plock
• Plock will play against Vardar, while Zagreb will host Kristianstad in the last round

GROUP A
HBC Nantes (FRA) vs HC Vardar (MKD) 27:26 (18:12)

If Vardar failed to lose aganst Nantes, they would have clinched the first place in the group. However, the French side are one of the most dominant forces on home court in the VELUX EHF Champions League without a loss in their previous six matches.

With a stout and aggressive defence, Nantes took a 6:3 lead with line player Nicolas Tournat and right back Eduardo Gurbindo taking advantage of Vardar’s defensive frailties, scoring two times inside the first 10 minutes.

Gurbindo continued his excellent form, taking his tally to five goals in the first half, as the home side improved heavily from their loss against Zagreb last week. They took a 18:12 lead into half-time.

It was one of the poorest Vardar performances this season, with a bleak 44% shot efficiency in the first half and no player scoring more than two goals.

It quickly went from bad to worse for Vardar as a 3:1 run from Nantes to start the second half all but sealed the French win, with the hosts cruising to a 21:13 lead.

One of the best performers of last week's win against Szeged, Timur Dibirov, had little to offer for the title holders, who tried to mount a comeback, only to fall short in the end.

A 7:2 run was insufficient for Vardar to crown their comeback.

But the Macedonian side still have their fate in their own hands. They now must win against Plock to be 100 percent sure of the first place.

Post-match statements:

Raul Gonzalez, Vardar coach: "Nantes played very good during the first half and they caused a lot of problems. We reduced the difference in the second half but not enough. The most important is that we are still at the first place of the group and that we will play the last game at home."

Thierry Anti, Nantes coach: "Our first half was a great performance. We lost control of the last 10 minutes and Vardar nearly came to a draw."

Jorge Maqueda, Vardar right back: "We must play better than during our first half if we want to go far in this competition."

Romain Lagarde, Nantes centre back: "We started with a lot of intensity and willingness. It probably surprised Vardar. In second half, Vardar played better in defense and we lost too much balls."

Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 27:32 (15:14)

There was little room for error for Plock, especially after Zagreb and Kristianstad lost their games in this round, as the Polish side remained in the hunt for a Last 16 berth. The motivated Plock team enjoyed a flawless start, powering to an 8:4 lead after nine minutes, with Romanian right wing Valentin Ghionea (six goals) leading the way.

But it was not one-way traffic, as a 3:0 run from Löwen saw the German champions level the game, 12:12, with four minutes left in the first half.

Plock-RNL_565

While Plock tried desperately to keep their opponents at bay, the Polish side’s efficiency started to plummet. During a scoreless period for Plock between the 36th and 42nd minute, the Lions scored six times, taking a 22:20 advantage.

That proved to be the key moment of the game, after which a 7:0 run for Löwen sealed the deal, as Sigurdsson, with 10 goals, and Andy Schmid, with six, led the German side to the win.

Post-match statements:

Nikolaj Jacobson, Löwen coach: "We knew that it would be a hard game for us. We came to Plock without some players. In the first half we made too many easy mistakes, technical fouls, which Wisla used. We played the same at the beginning of the second half, but then we started to play very good in defence. We made Wisla make too many mistakes, missed shots, and at the same time we scored many easy goals after counter attacks. I think that it was the key to today’s victory."

Piotr Przybecki, Plock coach: "Everything was good in the first half. We stayed focused when Rhein-Neckar Löwen played with seven players in attack. We kept this level till around the 35th minute, then there was some blackout in my team. Also the defence 5-1 with [Hendrik] Pekeler looked very good. We made too many mistakes, missed too many shots."
 


TEXT: Adrian Costeiu / ew / cg
 
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