Three Champions League matches – some comparisons and contrasts

A rainy weekend made it tempting to watch 3 matches on EHFTV, as all of them promised to offer some excitement. Well, one of them did not, but two out of three is not too bad… I will not offer detailed match commentary as you can find that elsewhere. Instead I will try to highlight some impressions and aspects of each match, including some comments on the role that the refereeing played.

Croatia O.G. vs. Ciudad Real turned out to be a real ‘propaganda’ match for handball lovers. It offered speed, great individual moves, tactical sophistication and a close score throughout the match. The players generally tried to be constructive, despite some conspicuous fouls, although most of these came in moments of desperation. There was a sense of great mutual respect. The spectators gave their home team strong support, but they also knew to appreciate good moves from the opponents.

The referees adapted well to this type of game and generally stayed in the background, preferring to trust the players as much as possible. There was a nice emphasis on maintaining good relations and a good atmosphere. Somewhat surprisingly, they may have been relatively tougher on the home team (even though one of their 2-min. penalties probably should have been a ‘red card’). But the sanctions against the visitors came a bit late and were not quite enough. But all in all it was a performance that suited this game, and the match remained good-spirited until the end, despite the 30-30 final result.

Kielce vs. Rhein-Neckar Lowen, with the appearance on Polish soil by Karol Bielecki and two more Polish players on the RNL team, playing against the dominant Polish club coached by Bogdan Wenta, promised to offer high emotions. And that is what we got, but unfortunately it seemed to cause to players to get a bit carried away. It was really a fight, where the ‘end justified the means’, and thus a regrettable contrast to the CRO-CdR game! It was typical that the match ended with a cynical foul by precisely Bielecki, whereby he destroyed a counterattack for Kielce that could have won the game. Instead, Kielce got a 7-meter throw which RNL goalie Fritz stopped. Presumably, Bielecki will now miss out on the next game (against Kiel).

One could argue that it was the kind of game where the players ignored the referees and continued their consistent pattern of rough play and reckless fouls. The referees tried at the beginning but then seemed to give up, preferring to pick out the worst transgressions and letting the rest go; hardly the approach one wants to see. To make things worse, the teams persisted in using penetrations at the 6-meter line, and this led to a considerable amount of ‘wrestling’. And this means that in a somewhat capricious manner there is sometimes a 7-meter throw and sometimes a quick whistle for a free-throw.

Celje vs. Kiel turned out to be the disappointing game. There was some special interest in having Kiel confront a team coached by their own recent coach Serdarusic, who left Kiel ‘under a cloud’. But it soon became evident that he is being asked to coach a Celje team that does not have much in common with the stronger versions of recent years. They held their own for only 20 minutes, with a result of 8-9, but this was soon converted into a 9-17 deficit shortly before half-time. The main difference maker was Omeyer, who seemed to ‘drive the opponents crazy’ with his frequent saves on ‘point blank’ opportunities. In the second half, Kiel relaxed quite a bit and allowed Celje to narrow the margin.

In this game, the referees tried to maintain a consistent line from the beginning, and the teams generally complied. There were also many more fast-breaks and goals scored from a distance. But the impression was clearly affected by the inability of the referees to stay sharp in the second half. The game was never very rough, but several fouls and technical violations were left without action, or handled with bad timing or misunderstandings in the interventions. In a game that is so easy in the second half, the main challenge is simply to remain concentrated, so there is really no excuse.

So a weekend with three top games can indeed offer an interesting experience and, above all, show some very sharp contrasts from one game to another. Handball is indeed unpredictable!