Full-blown dramatic finish sees Kristianstad proceed
Kristianstad was the only side who had their fate in their own hands, with a win against Zagreb securing a Last 16 phase for the Swedish champions, irrespective of Wisla Plock’s result against Vardar.
The Swedish side took control early in the second half and never looked back, as their second away win in the last two seasons in the VELUX EHF Champions League was enough to see them through.
"Of course we're happy about this outcome. Zagreb were playing good defence in the first. In the second half we've finally managed to speed up the tempo, score a lot of easy goals playing focused and disciplined handball. I'm satisfied and proud we'll play in the last 16," Ola Lindgren, Kristianstad head coach said.
Zagreb and Plock, who drew 31:31 against Vardar, lost the chance to proceed, as they are out of contention.
- Kristianstad will meet Flensburg in the Last 16 phase, as the German side finished third in Group B
- The Swedish side will proceed to the next phase for the first time, after missing out in the previous two seasons
- Plock finish seventh, while Zagreb ended the group on the last place
- Tim Sörensen single-handedly propelled Kristianstad to the win, scoring nine times
- Barcelona will play Montpellier in the Last 16 phase, while Szeged will face
HC PPD Zagreb (CRO) vs IFK Kristianstad (SWE) 24:27 (10:10)
Zagreb was not assured of qualifying if they won against Kristianstad, but they would have been surely out if they lost.
Therefore, the pressure was on the home side, who won both of their games of the season in the last four rounds, as Zagreb hoped that another home win would bring them a Last 16 berth.
The hosts knew that if they wanted to stand a chance, they would have to slow down the tempo and they did exactly just that, as the two sides engaged into an exchange of long attacks.
"In the first half we were able to stay close as we were doing everything to slow down the pace and the score looked good for us in that period. In the second half we did not manage to pull that off, their defence was way better and as a result they scored a lot of easy goals which usually decide close matches like this one," Zlatko Saracevic, Zagreb head coach said.
Hitting the right form during the business end of the group stage, it was back Damir Bicanic who was Zagreb’s main attacking weapon once again, as he shot the most and scored three goals in the first half, with right wing Zlatko Horvat following suit.
But there was no chance of breaking the deadlock, as no team managed to open a gap larger than two goals, with the half time score tied at 10:10.
5:1 run to snatch the win
The start of a half is crucial for the outcome of the game and the theory was to be tested also in Zagreb, as Kristianstad built a 5:1 run to shock the Croatian side, who turned the ball over three times and missed three consecutive shots to find themselves in a 16:13 hole.
With right wing Tim Sörensen in flawless form, Kristianstad never looked back, as the right back Albin Lagergren also drove the Swedish side to the most important win of the season.
As Kristianstad jumped to a 20:16 lead, Zagreb tested them, cutting the gap to only two goals twice, but the Swedish side had enough in their tank.
The unstoppable Tim Sörensen ended the game with nine goals, as Zagreb’s attempted comeback was prevented, with the Croatian side finishing last in the group, after the 27:24 loss.
HC Vardar (MKD) vs Orlen Wisla Plock (POL) 31:31 (16:16)
Many would have thought that Vardar, who already claimed the top place in the group and a quarter-final berth after Nantes failed to win against Löwen last night, would not be overly motivated against Plock.
But the title holders did not push back a second in the game against Plock, a team that needed both a win and Zagreb not to lose against Kristianstad.
The Polish side, who lost the last two games against Barcelona and Löwen, but led both teams in the second half, had another bright start, taking a 12:9 lead after 20 minutes, while firing from all cylinders, spreading the goals between seven players.
But Vardar quickly clawed back into the game on the back of Luka Cindric’s four-goal performance, as the two sides, who boasted shot efficiencies of over 60 per cent, went back and forth until half time.
No luck for Plock
There were three lead changes in the first eight minutes of the second half, with a 3:0 run from Vardar, inspired by Luka Cindric, saw the Macedonian side take a 20:18 lead.
Plock came back once again, but it was clear that they were in trouble, as Vardar continuously pulled ahead. A 27:24 Vardar lead was neutralised by a 3:0 Plock run with all the three goals scored by Romanian right wing Valentin Ghionea.
With Kristianstad cruising to a win in Zagreb, Plock still tried to snatch a win in Skopje, but Vardar ultimately protected their home court, as the game ended in a 31:31 draw.
As Vardar won the group, Plock finished seventh, with seven points, one more than Zagreb, but one less than Kristianstad, the final team to proceed to the Last 16 phase.
“I would like to emphasize that I am proud of my teammates because we did not stop fighting and we struggled till the very end. We all know how hard it is to play here against Vardar and their fans who are excellent and that's why we are proud that we did not surrender and played for our goal,” said Igor Zabic, Orlen Wisla Plock player.
“Our defence was not at the required level, and when Vardar do not play a good defence, we can hardly win. I am happy because this year we ended up in the first place, since the group was very difficult with more quality teams. My players have done their best and I am proud to say that I have the opportunity to work with them. Now we need to train even harder and find out the next opponent in the quarter-finals and prepare for the following matches,” said Raul Gonzales, HC Vardar coach.
FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs MOL-Pick Szeged (HUN) 28:27 (16:14)
The math was simple for Barcelona: win and jump to the second place of the group, for a tie with Montpellier in the Last 16; lose and finish third, with a trip to Meshkov Brest in the next round.
For the first eight minutes, it looked like the Spanish champions were nowhere near Szeged, a team that could not go higher than fifth in the rankings.
But a four-goal performance from right back Dika Mem, who was unstoppable in attack, saw the hosts back in the game, taking a 12:10 lead after 20 minutes.
While Barcelona managed to boast a 16:14 lead at half time, their back line was the main weapon in their 3:1 run that saw the Spanish side open a four-goal gap, 21:17, early in the second half, with Mem, Barca’s best scorer with six goals, and Aron Palmarsson shining.
The Hungarian side tried to emulate their comeback from three weeks ago against Rhein-Neckar Löwen, where they shocked the German side in the second half, but ultimately failed short.
A well-balanced Barcelona did well to stop Szeged in the last five minutes, as the Hungarian side cut the gap to only one goal, but the hosts extended the last attack in the last 25 seconds to seal the 28:27 win.
The fourth consecutive Barcelona win brought the Spanish side to the second place, leaping over Nantes, as they will face Montpellier in the Last 16 phase. After Kiel drew with PSG, the German side will face Szeged in the next phase.Author: Adrian Costeiu / br