Eight final steps to CologneArticle
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Preview of the first leg matches in the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finals.

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Eight final steps to Cologne

The first legs of the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finals begin on Friday (20 April), and the line-up boasts five nations, two debutants, the team with the most EHF Champions League titles and every EHF Champions League winner since the 2004-05 season!

Just eight matches remain before we will know the line-up of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 at a sold-out Lanxess Arena in Cologne, the highlight of club handball. But for all clubs, the road to Cologne is steep and rocky as they must navigate tricky quarter final clashes.

All three Spanish teams which started in the Group Stages remain in the competition, while two out of four German teams and clubs from Croatia, Slovenia and Denmark have proceeded to the second knockout stage of this season’s competition.

Atletico Madrid and defending champions FC Barcelona Intersport had qualified for both previous VELUX EHF FINAL4 events. Kiel had participated (and won the first edition), while all other contenders never been to Cologne before.

The three current top scorers in the VELUX EHF Champions League still have the chance to extend their number of goals: Zlatko Horvat (RK Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb/80 goals), Mikkel Hansen (AG Kobenhavn/79) and Kiril Lazarov (Atletico Madrid/74). In total seven of the ten best scorers have made their way to the quarter finals.

AG Kobenhavn and Füchse Berlin are VELUX EHF Champions League debutants, while RK Cimos Koper have reached the quarter finals for the first time. In contrast THW Kiel, FC Barcelona Intersport, Atletico Madrid and RK Zagreb are constant participants in the last eight. Kiel can qualify for an EHF Champions League semi-final for the eighth time, while if Barcelona progress to the last four it will be the tenth such time.


AG Kobenhavn (DEN) vs. FC Barcelona Intersport (ESP)
Friday, April 20 2012, 20:10 hrs local time

The "handboldfesten" is expected to be a sell-out with the biggest crowd ever at a European Cup match. AG Kopenhavn expect more than 21,000 spectators in the Parken football arena, where the Danish champions broke the world record last season with 36,000 spectators in the Danish final against Silkeborg. On Monday evening 19,600 tickets were sold, as mentioned by AGK manager Sören Colding on the club website.

Both teams are number one in their respective leagues: FC Barcelona Intersport are leaders in Spain, but only two points ahead of Atletico Madrid. Kobenhavn are dominant in Denmark; after reaching top spot in the normal round unbeaten, they have already qualified for the semi final of the Danish league.

Three current AGK players will face their former club: Mikkel Hansen, Joachim Boldsen and Kasper Hvidt. "A dream comes true," was the first reaction of Hansen, when the draw was over.

Never before have both teams met in an international match.

AGK is still unbeaten at home with five victories and one draw (against THW Kiel), while FC Barcelona Intersport only lost one away game this season - the first leg of the Last 16 in Montpellier.

While the hosts will miss goalkeeper Steinar Ege (rupture of Achilles, replaced by Mikkel Henriksen), FC Barcelona can pick from a fully fit team. Five times EHF Champions League winner Siarhei Rutenka was suspended for the first match, but his club successfully filed an appeal so now he is eligible to play on Friday.

Barcelona eliminated Montpellier in the Last 16, while Kobenhavn did not have any problems against IK Sävehof from Sweden.

Watch the match LIVE at ehfTV.com with full English commentary in the Match of the Week.


Reale Ademar Leon (ESP) vs. Füchse Berlin (GER)
Saturday, April 21 2012, 17:30 hrs local time

The third-ranked team from Spanish league takes on the third-ranked team from the German league – whatever happens, there will be one surprise club making their way to Cologne. Whilst Reale Ademar Leon is the only quarter finalist to have finished third after the Group Stage, Füchse are the only club fourth-ranked after the Group Stage. And as the Germans are Champions League debutants, both have never met before in an international competition.

Despite some injury problems throughout the whole season, the Asobal team coached by Isidoro Martinez have qualified for the quarter finals for the fourth time in their club’s history. The key to this success is their strength on home soil, as – despite having hosted top teams – Ademar is still unbeaten in their "Leon’s den". They took victories against Kobenhavn, Montpellier and Veszprem and only tied with THW Kiel in their previous matches.

Füchse on the other hand have shown that they are best in away games, by winning at Veszprem and Hamburg and drawing at Chekhovskie Medvedi. Berlin lost only two away matches – at Madrid and Kielce.

So everybody expects that the first leg will be the key to success. In the Last 16 Leon beat Veszprem by coming from behind to record a three-goal victory, which proved enough in a thrilling final match in Hungary. Berlin won both encounters against their German colleagues from Hamburg in the Last 16.

Watch the match LIVE at ehfTV.com


RK Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO) vs. THW Kiel (GER)
Saturday, April 21 2012, 19:15 hrs local time

The duel of the record-breaking German and Croatian champions is the only quarter final where there is a long history between the two sides, having faced each other eight times in the EHF Champions League, and the balance is equal with each three victories and two draws. Kiel have never won at Zagreb before, Zagreb have never won at Kiel - and in case of knockout stage matches, THW was the aggregate winner in all three cases (semi finals 1998 and 2000, quarter finals 2009).

The duel is overshadowed by the sacking of Zagreb coach Ivica Obrvan, who was replaced by Croatian national coach Slavko Goluza. After hitting the brakes hard, Zagreb hope for a wake-up call for their players after missing the SEHA league title.

On the other hand THW Kiel is close to win their 17th national championship. Before their Wednesday’s match at EHF Cup winner FA Göppingen, Kiel had extended their series to 54:0 points in all 27 matches.

Zagreb ranked second after the Group Stage, while Kiel won their group. The Croats needed to work extremely hard to eliminate Macedonian champions Metalurg Skopje, whilst THW had an easy walk against Polish champions Wisla Plock in the Last 16.

Kiel have lost only one match in all competitions this season: the VELUX EHF Champions League game on home ground against Montpellier, although they also tied at Leon. Zagreb have lost three matches, at home against FC Barcelona Intersport and at Sävehof and Skopje – but the Croats were the only team to take the points from the defending champions at Palau Blaugrana.

Watch the match LIVE at ehfTV.com


RK Cimos Koper (SLO) vs. BM Atletico Madrid (ESP)
Saturday, April 21 2012, 18:00 hrs local time

Quarter final debutant against pure experience: last season’s EHF Challenge Cup winner will meet the three times EHF Champions League winner. Atletico Madrid (formerly known as BM Ciudad Real) have reached the quarter finals for the eighth time in their eighth participation in the EHF Champions League – but have never faced Cimos Koper before.

The Spaniards, currently second in the Asobal league below FC Barcelona Intersport, have led a charmed life in international matches. Despite hard opponents in the Group Stage they were the second team to qualify for the Last 16 and lost only one match in the first stage of this competition – at Veszprem. The Last 16 meant an easy job against Kadetten Schaffhausen.

In contrast RK Cimos Koper reached the unexpected: After the title triple in the last season – EHF Challenge Cup, Slovenian championship and Slovenian cup – the Adriatic club finished second in their group below HSV. In the Last 16 Cimos Koper had two thrilling battles with Vive Targi Kielce, in which the final goal after 120 minutes decided.

From a statistical point of view Atletico are the favourites, but Koper do not have any pressure as they have already achieved more than they had hoped for. And the audience in their Arena is known to be very enthusiastic, especially for this match which is surely their most important this season.

Watch the match LIVE at ehfTV.com

TEXT: Björn Pazen