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EHF Champions League

Kohlbacher and Schmid keep Löwen's hopes alive

Björn Pazen / cg

Kohlbacher and Schmid keep Löwen's hopes alive

Even in top-flight handball, sometimes a winning strategy can be so easy. Rhein-Neckar Löwen were proof of this on Wednesday night, as their way to a victorious start in the VELUX EHF Champions League Last 16 was very simple: pass by centre back Andy Schmid, goal by line player Jannik Kohlbacher. 

Last season’s finalists HBC Nantes were unable to stop this duo, but they still have a chance to proceed to the quarter-final, as the hosts let an intermediate five-goal lead slip through their hands.

  • The 34:32 win is the first home victory for Rhein-Neckar Löwen in a Last 16 match since 2014. They lost at home the next four times

  • 11 goals lead Kohlbacher to his highest ever score in a Champions League match, while Schmid adds eight goals to his brilliant assists

  • The top Nantes scorers are Eduardo Gurbindo and Olivier Nyokas, with seven goals each

  • Gurbindo scores the final goal right with the final buzzer

Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER) vs HBC Nantes (FRA) 34:32 (18:16)

Will Löwen finally end their curse after four straight Last 16 eliminations? Coach Nikolaj Jacobsen is not sure whether his side can manage it in the rematch in Nantes: 

“Maybe yes, maybe no. We definitely need to improve in the defence if we want to make it,” said the Dane, who will leave Löwen after this season. “I have mixed emotions, as our attack worked almost well, but we conceded too many goals and caused too many mistakes in crunch time.” 

In the first half, both sides only focused on attack and the defence was almost non-existent, as proven by the 34 goals in the first 30 minutes. Until the score of 10:10, Nantes were dominant thanks to their left back Romain Lagarde, who will join Löwen in 2020. 

But then mastermind Andy Schmid took control through goals and even more with assists, mainly for outstanding line player Jannik Kohlbacher, who netted six of his 11 goals before the break.

As the hosts grew stronger, Nantes could not continue their ultra-fast match play and found themselves down by two at the break – thanks also to Löwen goalkeeper Mikael Appelgren saving some important shots.

Until the scoreboard showed 26:25, the match was more or less equal, as Gurbindo and Nyokas found the gaps. But for 10 minutes, Löwen were truly unleashed, pulling ahead to 32:26 in minute 52 and having the chance to extend the gap to six goals. 

Nantes never gave up and profited from two suspensions against Löwen in the final stages, reducing the distance to only two goals as Gurbindo scored an empty-net strike with the final buzzer.

“We were down by five goals, but we travel home with a two-goal deficit, which is manageable in the second leg,” said HBC team captain Rock Feliho. “We are eager to reach the next stage again, but we need another top fight against a really strong team. Schmid and Kohlbacher were really impressive tonight.” 

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