16.03.2023  LIQUI MOLY HBL

Giant killers Leipzig on the hunt for lions

When the footballers of FC St. Pauli beat FC Bayern Munich on 6 February 2002, who shortly before as the current UEFA Champions League winner had also won the club world championship, T-shirts were quickly printed to the historic moment, which are still sold today - with the title "World Cup Winners Conqueror". 21 years later, the SC DHfK Leipzig could consider which T-shirts they would like to print in the near future: You can choose between "club world champion conqueror" or "record champion conqueror" - because Leipzig’s high-flight accumulated last with the derby victory against club world champion SC Magdeburg (33:32) and the first ever away win in the club's history at record champions THW Kiel (34:31).

After the international break, there could be another option, "top side conqueror", because on Thursday (19.05 CET) current front runners Rhein-Neckar Löwen will be on court in the QUARTERBACK Immobilien Arena Leipzig, which will most likely be sold out again. The fact that the lions are first at all was also due to the Leipzig win against Kiel and the Foxes defeat at SC Magdeburg.

Since Icelander Runar Sigtryggsson took office as head coach as successor to André Haber on 10 November 2022, the Leipzig side have won nine games in eleven. After four points in the first ten games of the season, SC DHfK put the pedal to the metal with Sigtryggsson's premiere in the away game in Wetzlar celebrating six wins in a row. Before the World Championship break, the engine faltered a bit with the defeats against Bergischer HC and Foxes, but since the restart at MT Melsungen (29:28 win in the last second) things have run like a Swiss clockwork. With 6-0 points in the last three games, Leipzig is definitely the surprise pack of 2023.

A second Icelander played a significant part in this upswing: Viggo Kristjansson, with 119 goals - including ten in the derby win against SCM and seven in Kiel - by far the best scorer of the club. But he only sees himself as a cog in the machine, not as the boss: "The coach is the boss, but he gives me a lot of responsibility and a lot of freedom. I play more with a clear head, but I'm not the boss.”

This current series is even more unbelievable, since SC DHfK has had a few injury-related absences, especially in the backcourt - therefore defence boss Simon Ernst has had to play in attack almost since the beginning of the season, and was one of the match winners with six goals in the "milestone" victory against Kiel. "I can't get the grin off my face. It's crazy what kind of run we're currently on and how we're compensating for the absences," said the German international after the 34:31 in the Zebra's den. And, according to Ernst, his side really enjoys big tasks: "We believe in us and that we can beat any opponent. We lost that confidence in the first half of the season and now we've built it up again bit by bit. We also want to win the next game and are enjoying the current run.”

Having 22:20 points on their tally, SC DHfK Leipzig, currently seventh in the table, is 15 points behind Rhein-Neckar Löwen, but they are definitely not afraid of big names, even if a look at the previous statistics looks rather poor for Leipzig: In 18 duels with the lions there were two wins and two draws only. The "giant killers" duel against the leaders of the table on Thursday is already the third time both sides lock horns this season: in LIQUI MOLY HBL, the Löwen won their home game 30:24, in the cup, the Mannheim based team took a 36:27 away win.

Coach Runar Sigtryggsson relies on the more than 5,000 fans in the home arena as a key factor: "When the hall is full, that's the atmosphere we want at home. The fans and the team are looking forward to the game. If we want to trip up the lions, we have to deliver a high performance. We've worked hard to be called the fright of the favourites.” Backcourt player Matej Klima is also “really” looking forward to the lion hunt: “We'll just try to step on the gas. It's the third top game for us. We have already won two and we also want to be victorious against the lions.”

Photo: Trotter