Defending champions out of raceArticle
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AG Kobenhavn and Atletico Madrid reach VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne – Barcelona eliminated despite victory

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Defending champions out of race

AG Kobenhavn and Atletico Madrid are the first two teams which have qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL4, played 26/27 May in Cologne. The two additional semi-finalists will be decided on Sunday in the encounters Kiel vs. Zagreb and Berlin vs. Leon. Defending champions FC Barcelona have not reached their final destination despite a victory against AGK.

VELUX EHF Champions League, quarterfinal, second leg:

FC Barcelona Intersport (ESP) vs. AG Kobenhavn (DEN) 36:33 (17:17)

First leg: 23:29

Though they lost, they danced on the field and jumped on the bench: VELUX EHF Champions League debutant AG Kobenhavn made their dream come true, qualifying as the first team for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne by eliminating FC Barcelona Intersport. Like in 2011 the defending champions missed the final destination of this competition. One year ago it was FC Barcelona eliminating THW Kiel.

In Barcelona, the Danish champions showed a highly concentrated, intermediately brilliant performance in a match with weak defences on both sides. Whilst Siarhei Rutenka was the best player for the highly disappointed host and showed his true abilities after a weak performance in the re-match, an Icelandic duo were the match winners for AGK: Despite an injury from the first leg, Olafur Stefansson was the key to success, not only because of his seven goals, but as the spiritus rector of his team, in which his country fellow Gudjon Valur Sigurdsson was the top scorer with eight goals.

Despite bearing in mind that they had to catch up six goals, FC Barcelona Intersport did not start with full speed, but concentrated – same as AG Kobenhavn did. The Danes had to miss injured Joachim Boldsen, Barcelona missed Albert Rocas. The Catalan defence played much more offensive than one week before with intermediate man-to-man defence against Mikkel Hansen. But Kobenhavn found the way to the goals, right in the first half especially by Sigurdsson, scoring by counter attacks, or Stefansson with his back court hammers.

Barca, pushed by a big crowd in the Palau Blaugrana, tried hard in attack and was able to score much more goals than in the first leg, but their defence conceded too many easy goals on the other hand. When Siarhei Rutenka scored for the fourth time to 17:14 in minute 26 the host seemed to have the control, but Kobenhavn fought back – and Stefansson secured the equal halftime result of 17:17.

With only 30 minutes to go, Barcelona still was below with six goals in aggregate, and it became even worse, when Stefansson started the second half with his fifth goal. Palau became calmer and calmer, when Mikkel Hansen hit the back of the net for the first AGK two goal lead at 20:18 in minute 34. And this margin remained until the 27:25 –15 minutes before the end, everything looked clear for the Danes. But it took only seven minutes, until Barcelona again could hope for Cologne after six straight goals to 31:27.

AGK coach Magnus Andersson took his time-out, whilst the Palau Blaugrana went crazy. But it was the Icelandic duo Stefansson/Sigurdsson again, who finally secure the ticket to Cologne thanks to their in total 15 goals. Being top scorer with nine goals was of little consolation for Siarhei Rutenka, who missed his fifth straight chance to reach a final of the EHF Champions League. On the other hand four times EHF Champions League winner Stefansson reached his sixth semi-final in this competition – with the fourth club after SC Magedeburg, Ciudad Real and Rhein Neckar Löwen.

Atletico Madrid (ESP) vs. RK Cimos Koper (SLO) 31:24 (14:13)

First leg: 23:26

New name, same destination: Atletico Madrid, formerly known as BM Ciudad Real, is the only team to be part of all two former and the upcoming VELUX EHF FINAL4 since 2010. But it was much more work than the final result shows to tame the brave fighting team of Cimos Koper. The decisive second leg victory is built upon two names: World class goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik, who saved the incredible number of 24 shots, and tall Danish shooter Nikojaj Markussen, who became top scorer with eight goals. But despite the elimination one step before they had reached Cologne, Cimos Koper can be proud of what they reached in this VELUX EHF Champions League season. Only the last 15 of in total 120 minutes were bad, too bad to endanger the favoured Spanish team.

The host started perfectly thanks to a high shot efficiency and a brilliant Sterbik. Cimos Koper lacked concentration in the very beginning – and their defence was far beyond their performance in the first leg. After eight minutes Madrid was away 7:3 and with his fourth goal Kiril Lazarow seemed to have broken the resistance very early at the 9:4 in minute 14.

But then a time-out was the perfect wake-up call for Cimos Koper. The defence became more aggressive, in attack the concentration rose – and the downswing had come to an end. Twelve minutes later Milorad Krivokapic had reduced the gap to only two goals scoring the 13:11 – a distance which would already be enough for Koper to reach the VELUX EHF FINAL 4. Madrid was paralysed, lost their rhythm in attack and without Sterbik they would even been below at the break. So they went to the dressing rooms with a 14:13 lead – too less to reach Cologne at this moment.

And it even became worse for Atletico: Koper took the lead, as the Spaniards missed an armada of chances. In minute 38, when the score was 17:19, Madrid was already below with five goals, and Koper played brilliant in attack and defence.

But then Arpad Sterbik reanimated his team with brilliant saves. He pulled the Koper teeth by shutting his shop, and his team mates took a boost of confidence by Sterbik. Nine minutes before the end and the 26:22 scored by Abalo the four goals distance the host needed to proceed, was reached. And with the end of a 11:4 series and the intermediate score of 28:23 in minute 55, the celebrations could start, the Koper resistance was broken and the announcer in Madrid was shouting “Vamos a Colonia!”. Best Koper scorer was Matjaz Brumen with seven goals, the same number as Jonas Källman scored for Atletico.

TEXT: Björn Pazen