LAST 16 PREVIEW: THW Kiel and Rhein-Neckar Löwen open the knock-out stage of the VELUX EHF Champions League on Wednesday
A German duel throws off the Last 16
Both teams were unhappy with the outcome of the group phase, and both are unhappy that they are facing an all-German duel in an international competition.
Nevertheless, THW Kiel and Rhein-Neckar Löwen have to fight for a ticket for the quarter-final of the VELUX EHF Champions League on Wednesday.
Last 16, first leg
THW Kiel (GER) vs Rhein-Neckar Löwen (GER)
THW Kiel had their worst group phase in the history of the Champions League, and their overall biggest defeat in any competition -the 42:24 defeat at Paris in round 14. They hope to turn things around in the first leg of the all-German duel.
“If our team is healthier than at Paris and the players show the right attitude, we might have a chance,” said THW coach Alfred Gislason.
17 times in the last 19 years, Kiel have made it to the quarter-final. They have never really been eliminated in the Last 16- but this trend is in danger this season.
Nevertheless, the records speak in favour of THW: In the 37 matches played between the two teams in all competitions, Kiel have won 25 times, lost ten times and tied twice. Looking at EHF Champions League duels, Kiel have won four out of seven, while both teams tied once and lost once.
The last time both German sides clashed in an international competition was in the 2009/10 quarter-finals, when Kiel booked their ticket to the first ever VELUX EHF FINAL4 at Cologne with two narrow wins over Rhein-Neckar Löwen. Kiel ultimately became Champions League winners for that season. In the 2008/09 season, the pair met in the semi-final- the outcome of which had already been decided in the first leg, after a 37:23 victory for Kiel.
But the only domestic duel between the two this season ended as a 29:26 away win for Löwen at Kiel’s fortress. In the Bundesliga, the defending champions from Mannheim are ranked third, one point below Kiel, but have played three matches less.
THW finished the group phase in fifth position after seven defeats, while Löwen gave up a better position in the group after two clear defeats in their last two group matches against Celje (31:37) and at home against Szeged (24:30).
Löwen were eliminated from the Last 16 in the last two seasons- first by Szeged, then by Zagreb. The only time they made it all the way to Cologne was in 2011. This was the only year so far that Kiel had not been part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.
“We did not want to face Kiel, but now we have to,” said Löwen coach Nikolaj Jacobsen, who had been a THW player from 1998 to 2004, including the 2000 Champions League Final.
Niklas Landin Jacobsen had been playing for Löwen, before he transferred to Kiel in 2015. Löwen’s line player Hendrik Pekeler- who had been a THW player in his younger days- will go back to THW in 2018.
The overall winner of this all-German duel will face FC Barcelona Lassa in the quarter-finals.
TEXT: Björn Pazen/kc
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