Cologne is calling – but for who?Article
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Just 240 minutes of handball remain before the four teams are known for the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

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Cologne is calling – but for who?

Madrid or Koper? Barcelona or Kobenhavn? Kiel or Zagreb? Berlin or Leon? On Sunday evening the four teams who have made it to Cologne will be known. We preview the four decisive second leg games of the VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-finals.

FC Barcelona Intersport (ESP) vs. AG Kobenhavn (DEN)
Saturday, April 28, 20:00 hrs local time
First Leg: 23:29
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FC Barcelona Intersport will be hoping that home advantage will help them overcome a six-goal deficit from the first leg. FC Barcelona Intersport will count on their home strength and history, while AG Kobenhavn will hope for another brilliant defensive performance including goalkeeper Kasper Hvidt, who is eligible to play after his red card, just as Jesper Noddesbo is eligible for Barca.

While the Danish champions were without a match this week, Barcelona won their league game against Ciudad Encantada 32:23, but lost winger Albert Rocas due to an ankle injury. Like for Olafur Stefansson of AGK, it is not clear if Rocas can play on Saturday (28 April). But former Barca player Joachim Boldsen will definitely have to miss the game – and the rest of the season.

Barcelona are looking back on history to strengthen their hopes to reach the final destination Cologne for the third straight time. In the Cup Winners’ Cup season 1984/85 they lost the first leg of the semi final 13:20 in Reykjavik but won the second leg 22:10. In the finals against ZSKA Moscow this pattern continued: Losing the first leg 23:30, they won the title on away goals having won the re-match 27:20. In the 1989/90 season of the Champion’s Cup – forerunner of the EHF Champions League - Barcelona lost the first leg of the quarter final 16:22 at Gothenburg, but won the second leg 28:19 on home ground.

But AGK is here and now – and even a Barcelona 16-goal difference against Montpellier does not make the Danes fear their opponents. "I hope for the same number of saves from Kasper Hvidt and the same cleverness from my team," coach Magnus Andersson says. For AGK, talent Mads Mensa Larsen added: "the great Barcelona stars are only human beings, who can be defeated."

BM Atletico Madrid (ESP) vs. RK Cimos Koper (SLO)
Saturday, April 28, 20:15 hrs local time
First Leg 23:26
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After their 26:18 league victory against Granollers and with several injured players making a return, Atletico Madrid are full of confidence to turn a three-goal deficit into a victory against the Slovenians. "We will score more goals than we did in Koper," is the general motto of the Spaniards, who can – like Barcelona – reach Cologne for a third straight time.

The mood in the Slovenian camp is relaxed after their surprise victory, secured by goalkeeper Gorazd Skof. 40 spectators will go with the team to the Spanish capital. "No surrender, no fear. Going to the lion’s den with a knife between the teeth," states an announcement on the club website. "They are flesh and blood like we are," top star Milorad Krivokapic said: "We have great potential, as we have already played many excellent matches," the Hungarian international added.

In Madrid, both the players and club hope for good support from the stands: "It will be a tough game against a great opponent, but we are experienced in such games. But I hope many fans will come, as we need their help to win by more than three goals," left wing Jonas Källman said. "Nobody thinks that this will be easy," Spanish international Joan Canellas added, "but we are sure to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 together with our fans."

Füchse Berlin (GER) vs. Reale Ademar Leon (ESP)
Sunday, April 29, 16:00 hrs local time
First leg: 23:34
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Füchse are hoping for the "wonder of Berlin", while Reale Ademar Leon are aiming to secure a spot in the semi-final of the VELUX EHF Champions League for the first time in club history. This is the starting position for the second leg after the clear 34:23 Leon victory and the Spaniards continued their good form with a 30:21 victory at Vigo in the Spanish league on Wednesday (25 April).

"We have to go out and play to win, this is the best way of remaining in this competition. Berlin are a great team, but we do not surrender to them and their spectators," Leon coach Isidoro Martinez said before travelling to the German capital.

On Berlin's side, they have had enough time to analyse the first leg, as Füchse did not have to play in the Bundesliga this week. "We did everything wrong you could do wrong in Leon," coach Dagur Sigurdsson said: "Leon played a perfect match." And manager Bob Hanning added: "Some of our key players did not stand the pressure unfortunately. But we owe our fans a great performance and 100 per cent fighting spirit."

An extremely important duel will be the one between the goalkeepers. Vicente Alamo played superbly for Leon, whilst Stochl and Heinevetter for Berlin were much weaker and left alone by their defenders too often. But this game is in the past, as Dutch international Mark Bult mentions: "We will fight like pigs to go to Cologne." Berlin only lost one match in their first VELUX EHF Champions League season at home – against a Spanish team, Atletico Madrid. And the biggest defeat of Leon in this international season occurred in Germany: the 28:38 at Kiel. But even this result would be enough for the Spaniards to reach the FINAL4.

THW Kiel (GER) vs. RK Croatia Osiguranje Zagreb (CRO)
Sunday, April 29, 17:30 hrs local time
First Leg: 31:31
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Zagreb led by seven goals at one point in the first leg clash, but had to be satisfied with a draw in the end as Kiel proved much more powerful than the Croats in the final stages. But still the Croatian champions hope for the ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Twelve years ago they played their last semi-final in the EHF Men's Champions League - and were eliminated by THW Kiel.

And the Germans, who can become national champions two days after the second leg of this quarter finals, are on their guard. "In my opinion Zagreb is stronger in away matches than they are at home, see their victory at Barcelona in the Group Stage," THW coach Alfred Gislason said, adding: "We have to play much stronger and more stable than we did in the first leg."

Meanwhile, THW right back Kim Anderson added: "It is still 0:0 and I hope we know, what to do. And team captain Marcus Ahlm shares this opinion: "I expect another highly close and thrilling game."

Kiel's opponents on the other hand remain unbeaten since Slavko Goluza became coach last week: Besides the draw against THW, the Croatian champions took two clear league victories against Nexe and on Wednesday against Porec (32:18). "There was no big difference between us and Kiel," said current VELUX EHF Champions League top scorer Zlatko Horvat.

"But their advantage is the bigger and better bench. They can rotate on highest level constantly." Top star Ivano Balic has his own strategy for the second leg on Sunday: "A final result of 32:32 would not be that bad." In this case Zagreb would have booked their ticket to Cologne thanks to the bigger number of away goals. And Balic adds: "If our goalkeeper Marin Sego saves like he did in the first leg we have a realistic chance, but in my opinion Thierry Omeyer will be much better in the opposite goal."

TEXT: Björn Pazen