Schwalb: “It is always hard to tame a Russian bear”
Rhein-Neckar Löwen are set to wrap up a crucial and decisive week for the club on Tuesday when the Lions meet the Bears.
At 18:45 CEST (live on EHFTV), the team of head coach Martin Schwalb need to beat Chekhovskie medvedi in the second leg of the EHF European League Men quarter-final.
After the 33:32 defeat last week, the target is to win by at least two goals – or one, as long as Chekhov score no more than 31.
The victory is needed for Löwen to proceed to the EHF FINALS Men 2021, the final tournament of the competition. The club will host the event in the SAP Arena Mannheim on 22/23 May – even if Löwen would fail to qualify.
The EHF Cup 2013 winners led the first leg in Russia by six goals, but also trailed by four (33:29) with only a few minutes left.
“We lost by one goal and it is half-time, we simply have to win the second half,” coach Schwalb said.
Schwalb knows how to beat Chekhov in a quarter-final: he steered his former club HSV Hamburg to a 38:24 home victory against the Russian record champions in the EHF Champions League 2010/11 to make it to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2011.
This year, Schwalb is eager to make it to the EHF FINALS on home ground, as it is his biggest wish to leave Mannheim with a trophy after 18 months.
In June, Schwalb will return to Hamburg to take over HSV again. The European League seems his only chance to win a title this season, as Löwen trail Bundesliga leaders Flensburg by two points and runners-up Kiel by one but have already played four matches more than the leading pair.
“We truly hope to win the first edition of the European League after we won the premiere of the merged EHF Cup in 2013,” Schwalb said.
Right wing Patrick Groetzki was part of the Löwen team that won first trophy in the club’s history. He knows what it needs to be successful against Chekhov.
“Medvedi played clever and can count on some top individually skilled players,” Groetzki said. “But we caused too many quite stupid mistakes in the first leg. If we stop it, we will proceed to the final tournament.”
In the absence of team captain Uwe Gensheimer, who is out after knee surgery, and other key players like goalkeeper Mikael Appelgren and defence specialists Ilija Abutovic and Jesper Nielsen, Groetzki will be one of the main players for Löwen on Tuesday.
“In contrast to the first leg at Chekhov, we have to support our goalkeepers in a better way and we need to score more goals by counter-attacks,” says Groetzki, who expects “another narrow match.”
We got the incredible chance to host this event in the SAP Arena, so we will definitely grab this chance with both hands. We all will be highly motivated to beat Medvedi and to make it to the home final.
So far in knock-out ties this season, remarkably, Löwen have done better in away games. In qualification, they won 28:22 at Holstebro in Denmark before losing 27:26 at home, and in the Last 16, they won 27:25 at Nexe in Croatia before being held to a 27:27 draw at home.
However, Löwen were boosted by the EHF decision last week to stage the inaugural EHF FINALS Men in the club’s arena, which has previously been used for World Championships in handball and ice hockey.
Another key question was answered in the last week, when Löwen announced the successor of Schwalb for next season: his current assistant coach, Claus Gärtner, will take over for one year.
Gärtner was youth coordinator and assistant coach at Löwen before joining Austrian champions Alpla Hard, but he returned to Mannheim in 2020.
In the summer of 2022, Sebastian Hinze will arrive from Bergischer HC, another club that is nicknamed ‘Lions’ in Germany.
Löwen’s upbeat week continued with a strong dress rehearsal for Tuesday’s game, as they beat former EHF Cup participants TSV Hannover-Burgdorf 33:28 in the domestic Bundesliga.
Especially Jannik Kohlbacher impressed, with 11 goals – just days after he missed several chances against Chekhov.
“I am happy that I managed to score, but in the end, I do not care who scores. The same holds true for the re-match on Tuesday,” said Kohlbacher, who is nicknamed “Maulwurf” (Mole) and wants to dig a tunnel to the EHF FINALS on Tuesday.
“We got the incredible chance to host this event in the SAP Arena, so we will definitely grab this chance with both hands. We all will be highly motivated to beat Medvedi and to make it to the home final.”
Coach Schwalb praised Kohlbacher after his 11-goal outing.
“’Kohli’ was sensational, we all hope he continues like this,” Schwalb said. “Russian bears are always hard to tame. But this is one of the most important matches of the whole season, we have so many things at stake on Tuesday.”