|08.03.2017, 18:40||◄ last page|
GROUP B REVIEW: Rhein-Neckar Löwen lost any chance of finishing top of the group and clinching an automatic last-eight berth, after a crushing home defeat by MOL-Pick Szeged
Superb Szeged tame toothless Lions in Frankfurt
The prospect of topping the group, albeit temporarily, should have galvanised Rhein-Neckar Löwen, but they went down tamely on home court against their fired-up Hungarian opponents MOL-Pick Szeged.
The German title holders, who have produced patchy performances in the VELUX EHF Champions League Group Phase, are likely to drop two places down to fourth and draw potentially more difficult opposition in the Last 16.
MOL-Pick Szeged produced arguably their most impressive VELUX EHF Champions League performance of the season, as they ran riot in the second half of their visit to Rhein-Neckar Löwen and brushed aside the German title holders.
One would have expected Mannheim’s Lions to come out roaring. Victory would have provisionally put them top of the group and in with a chance of snatching an automatic quarter-final berth, in the event of Vardar slipping up at home to IFK Kristianstad.
As things stand, the Macedonian giants are assured of staying in top spot even if defending champions Kielce beat Brest and finish level on points with Vardar. In that eventuality, a better head-to-head record against the Polish outfit would still earn Vardar top spot.
Unfazed by Rhein-Neckar Löwen’s more illustrious stature, Szeged raced into an early 8:4 lead before a time-out by the home side helped them to briefly redress the balance with four unanswered goals.
The home side, however, continued to struggle in attack against a speedy Szeged defence, who did a great job in back-tracking to thwart the German team’s trademark fast breaks.
The visitors quickly restored their four-goal advantage (13:9), before a late flurry allowed Löwen to cut the deficit to two goals at the interval.
The second half produced more of the same and it was clear the Lions would struggle to find a way back after falling five goals behind (12:17), with a passionate contingent of away fans in full voice.
Goalkeeper Andreas Palicka kept the home side in the game with some fine saves, and there was a still a ray of hope Rhein-Neckar Löwen could turn the tide when they slashed the deficit to 16:19.
That turned out to be their last meaningful effort as Szeged, led by the irrepressible Jonas Kallman, romped away to 26:18, piercing through Löwen’s defence almost at will to silence the few home fans still trying to roar on their team.
Both sides went through the motions in the last 10 minutes, with the Lions managing to avoid a heavier defeat as the visitors took their feet off the gas pedal.
Kallman led Szeged with seven goals, Bence Banhidi netted six while Zsolt Balogh and Stas Skube added five each to underline the Hungarian side's potent and balanced attack.
Hendrik Pekeler led Rhein-Neckar Löwen with six goals but, like his team mates, he endured a quiet second half after netting four out of four in the opening period.
"I am very happy with this win. The team played very focused and concentrated and we deserved to win. We are looking forward to go to the last 16," said MOL-Pick Szeged coach Juan Carlos Pastor Gomez.
"There are days when you have to accept, that the other team is better. Today Szeged was better and deserved to win this game. It seems like we will finish in 4th place now and have to face Kiel. But the table is not lying, we played excellent in some games away this Champions League season but really had problems at home. If we get Kiel, we will try our best to reach the quarterfinal," said Rhein-Neckar Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen.
TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / ap