PLAY-OFF REVIEW: Nantes earn a hard-fought win in the first leg of the Group C+D play-off draw against Naturhouse La Rioja, putting themselves in a good position ahead of the return match.
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Nantes snatch win over La Rioja with strong finish
Gurutz Aguinagalde and Haniel Langaro inspired the hosts to a fine performance in their first-leg VELUX EHF Champions League Group C+D Play-off, but Naturhouse La Rioja will view Sunday’s match as a wasted opportunity as they were outplayed in the final quarter by splendid attacking firepower from HBC Nantes.
• Nantes extend their run of away wins in the Champions League to five matches
• Nantes outscore La Rioja 11:4 in fast breaks, which proves one of the decisive factors
• Eduardo Gurbindo Martinez leads the score sheet with eight goals
• La Rioja lose their third play-off match since elimination-round matches were introduced last season
• The return leg is scheduled for March 11 in Nantes
GROUP C+D PLAY-OFF
Naturhouse La Rioja (ESP) vs HBC Nantes (FRA) 25:31 (13:13)
One of the most in-form European teams converted their attacking potential into a dominant second-half performance that earned them a special win over La Rioja on Sunday. Nantes had a slow start to the game, but raised their level throughout the match.
A wasted opportunity for the hosts
When Haniel Langaro made it 6:4 for the hosts in the 13th minute, and Nantes’ Nicolas Tournat and David Balaguer picked up suspensions, La Rioja were given an ideal opportunity to build on their lead.
But unfortunately for Jota Gonzalez’s men, they could not score a single goal, which helped Nantes gain confidence. The home coach was forced to take a time-out in the first half at 22:22 as things started to look worse for La Rioja when Nicolas Claire levelled the score.
O’Brien Nyateu gave Nantes the lead for the first time in the 27th minute as the French side started to take control towards the end of the first half – but no one would have predicted the surprising twist to come.
Defensive stability not enough for La Rioja
La Rioja coach Gonzalez’s tactics helped the Spanish runners-up from the past two seasons enjoy a fine start to the second half, as their aggressive and well-applied defence kept Nantes’ firepower at distance.
It took almost five minutes for Tournat to break the disciplined defence from the home team, but the Spanish machine stopped working after Angel Montoro scored the 20th goal in the 44th minute.
After that La Rioja struggled in attack and Nantes were determined to use the opportunity to decide the game in their favour. At 20:17, the visitors scored five in a row and took a crucial step toward their sensational win.
It was rather a symbolic moment when the top scorer of the match, Gurbindo, scored the final goal in the last second.
TEXT: Tomas Cuncik / cg