One boss out, one questionable
A series of wins or losses could come to an end on Thursday (30 March) in the Last 16 second leg all-German match-up of the VELUX EHF Champions League. Rhein-Neckar Löwen have not qualified for the quarter-finals for the past two years, while THW Kiel have never been eliminated in the Last 16. After their 25:24 home defeat in the first leg, Kiel know it will be an uphill struggle as they aim to clinch their 18th quarter-final berth in history.
Pekeler, Jakobsen, Sigurdsson, Palicka (all Löwen) and Landin (Kiel) will face their former clubs
Two years ago, Kiel played their most recent all-German Last 16, defeating Flensburg
Both sides face injury problems of key players – Duvnjak, Toft Hansen and Weinhold for Kiel, Schmid for Löwen
Last time Kiel were eliminated by a German club prior to the semi-finals was by Flensburg in the 2005/06 season
The last time Löwen eliminated Kiel in any competition was in the Last 16 of the German Cup in the 2015/16 season
LAST 16, SECOND LEG
Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs THW Kiel (GER)
Thursday, 30 March, 19:00 hrs local time, Match of the Week (MOTW), live on ehfTV.com
“I am sure that we will make it to the quarter-finals.” Kiel’s goalkeeper Andreas Wolff is extremely confident about reaching the round of the best eight teams in the VELUX EHF Champions League for the first time in his career. For his club, it would be their 18th participation in the quarter-finals, while for Löwen they could make it to this stage for the fifth time in their history.
The team of coach Nicolaj Jakobsen (a former THW player) has been eliminated twice in the past two years, first by Pick Szeged, then by PPD Zagreb and his side go into the second leg of this tie the same as one year ago. Löwen had won the first leg in Zagreb 24:23, but then lost on home ground 31:29 and were out. “I hope we have learnt our lesson”, said line player Henrik Pekeler, who played for Kiel until 2009 and will join his former club again, from 2018.
Still, Kiel suffer from major injury problems. As in the first leg their mastermind Domagoj Duvnjak is ruled out by kneecap problems, right back Steffen Weinhold has a foot injury and line player Rene Toft Hansen questionable.
On the other side the medical department of Löwen are fighting hard to get Andy Schmid ready to rumble - the playmaker got injured with a hip bruise in the Bundesliga win at Lemgo (33:28) this past week and is also in question. “We hope to get him ready,” said Löwen team manager Oliver Roggisch. “but I guess that Andy definitely wants to play against Kiel.”
In contrast, Duvnjak might miss the whole of the rest of the season as he needs surgery and a long recovery time.
Löwen had been ahead by six goals at Kiel last weekend, but finally the margin melted to just one goal. “We have to continue the way we played in the second leg,” said coach said Jakobsen. “Nothing is decided - everybody knows that Kiel are a dangerous opponent.”
“It is only half-time,” added Schmid.
His side had lost just one of their last six encounters with THW, tied once and won four. “We know how to beat them, but they also know how to win at Mannheim”, said Pekeler. Like Löwen in Lemgo, Kiel had won their Bundesliga match between the two Champions League games (27:26 at Hannover).
“This win boosted our confidence as we managed to turn a clear deficit around,” said Wolff. “The starting deficit at Mannheim is only one goal so our chances are 40:60,” said a more restrained THW coach Alfred Gislason.
On international stage, the last Löwen home win against Kiel dates back eight years (31:30, in the 2009 semi-finals, when in the first leg Löwen were demolished 37:23.
The overall balance of Lions’ home matches vs Zebras is still negative for Thursday’s hosts with 10 THW wins, one draw and seven Löwen victories.
Overall, both sides have played each other 38 times in different competitions with 25 Kiel wins, two draws and 11 Löwen victories.
TEXT: Bjorn Pazen/amc