Tenacious Löwen triumph in the battle of the Lions
Lions were roaring on both sides this evening in Zagreb Arena, as both teams desperately wanted the victory.
It was Rhein-Neckar Löwen, who edged it just narrowly in the end, to come away with a crucial win in the first match – 24:23 (10:12).
Moreover, Löwen were the fourth visiting side to come away with a win this evening, after Veszprem, Flensburg and Kielce all secured wins.
Exuberant defences ran the match in Zagreb, however, it was nothing less than expected, given the defensive frugality nurtured by both teams.
Uwe Gensheimer (seven goals) and Mads Mensah Larsen (six goals) ran the show for the victorious Rhein-Neckar Löwen, alongside in-form Borko Ristovski in goal who recorded seven saves.
For the hosts, it was the scintillating Ivan Stevanovic, who managed to stop ten of the opposition shots.
Domagoj Pavlovic, Zlatko Horvat and Luka Sebetic recorded five goals each.
MOTW: HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) 23:24 (12:10)
The opening brought a tough defensive battle with three goals each in the initial nine minutes (3:3).
The Bundesliga outfit stood out as the more successful in converting the hard-fought chances, with Ekdahl Du Rietz demonstrating his signature shooting traits to complete a 3:0 Löwen run.
The rampant Swede was the difference between the two teams at the 12-minute mark, forging a three-goal lead (3:6), with Gensheimer on song from the fast breaks.
Despite the three-goal gap maintained by Löwen, and hosts’ initial stutter in front of Borko Riskovski’s goal, Zagreb’s Domagoj Pavlovic was the sole contributor in the offensive end, which prompted Vujovic to call a time-out mid-way through the first period.
Motivated Zagreb were back in the game, after the morale-boosting break by Vujovic, scoring two goals in quick succession, to bring the gap down to only one goal, and signal the momentum shift.
Inability to profit from the power play, signalled a difficult period for Löwen, as Ivan Stevanovic came to play with two saves to inspire comeback, as Sebetic nets brace to bring back the lead after 25 minutes of play (11:10).
The final blow before the break came as Horvat seized on Riskovski’s error to extend the lead to 12:10 before half-time.
It did not take long for the German lions to find their way back into the match, as Larsen and Gensheimer regained composure at the break to efficiently come away with 17:16 after the opening 10 minutes in the second half.
The great wall of Zagreb commanded by Tonci Valcic, kept their composure to deny the otherwise effective Rhein-Neckar Löwen, with a highly combative combined defence to keep the score at 18:18.
Stevanovic and Ristovski took the battle to a whole different level, with six saves each, entering the last ten minutes, but it was Larsen’s lethal backcourt performance aided by Reinkind and Gensheimer that stole the show, going into crunch time with the score reading 22:22.
Rhein-Neckar Löwen were left with more fuel in the tank in the dying minutes, as Zagreb committed the inexcusable five turnovers in the second half alone to allow them a way back into this nervy tie.
Reinkind ended the two-minute goal-drought late in the game, following Sebetic’s effort that went over Ristovski’s goal setting the score at 24:22.
Horvat scored what might prove to be more than just a consolation goal with merely seconds left until the final whistle (23:24).
Nikolaj Jacobsen head coach of the Löwen, highlighted the fact that both defences played well: "It was a very difficult match against a very good team.
"They play very aggressive defense which we’ve had lot of problems with.
"Our defense was also very good today as well as our goalkeeper.
However, Jacobsen is not getting too excited too soon as: "these were only the first 60 minutes, we still have to play one more match in Mannheim and I’m sure it will be difficult.
"We are one up from this match, but it definitely won’t be easy to go through."
Luka Sebetic of Zagreb was content with their performance but sees room for improvement: "We can be satisfied with some parts of the match, but I am not happy with the loss of course.
"We’ve missed too many clear chances and Borko was amazing.
"We still have 60 minutes ahead of us and we’ll do everything to beat Löwen in Germany and advance to quarter-finals."
TEXT: Nemanja Savic / bc