BLOG: Where there’s life, there’s hopeArticle
«Go back commentator Tom Ó Brannagáin blogs before the first Match of the Week in the VELUX EHF Champions League knock-out stage - Celje vs Hamburg

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BLOG: Where there’s life, there’s hope

We’ve been here before. Celje, that is. March 2011, the visitors were Barcelona; it was the time of the financial crisis that hit Celje and the majority of their experienced, best players left for further afield and the remaining “young guns” were left to take the club forward.

No one gave them a chance and yet Barcelona struggled to only a 30:27 victory, which is not bad when you consider Barca went on to win the VELUX EHF FINAL4 that year.

That was the day I first set eyes on Gašper Marguč as well. Only 20 at the time, he scored 10 goals that day and looked like a star.

Fast forward to this year and he is mentioned in almost every “Team of the Week”. He is a star now and the intervening year of no CL games has given him the time to progress as a player.

In fact, it’s not right to consider this team as inexperienced. They have 8 of the players, who played against Barca that day still in their squad, and, although they are young, (the average age, minus Toskić and Žvižej, is very early 20s), they are a hardened bunch.

Just ask Kiel. No one gave them a chance that day either. They didn’t agree. They fought Kiel to a standstill. Ask any coach and he will tell you, “You must first win the battle then the game”.

Kiel lost the battle. The 3m between the Celje defensive lines became a no-go area and 5x2min suspensions for Celje showed how hardened they are. They didn’t let Kiel breathe, they won the battle, and then they won the game. Kiel will say they didn’t play well, well I say, they weren’t allowed. Think back to Copenhagen against Barca last season. For all Barca’s great play, the tough Danes beat them in the fight, then pulverised them.

Now we focus on MOTW and Celje welcome Hamburg. Fresh from winning a tough Group A, Hamburg are as tough as they come. They don’t have the subtlety of a Kiel or a Barcelona, but what they do have is a huge team. They are physical, powerful and pragmatic. I cannot see Celje, for all their fight, being able to out-muscle the Hamburgers.

They look like the biggest team in the CL and their “sexy” tight tops just accentuate the muscles bulging beneath their shirts. There is no way Toskić and Poteko will push big Igor Vori around on the line and Duvnjak, for Hamburg, is becoming one of the greatest players around at the moment.

Add to that Lindberg on the right wing and even Ranevski out high in a 5:1 defence, where he makes a complete nuisance of himself, will be no match for Hamburg’s back division.

When they played Kiel, the % save rate for Kiel was 14%. B&B, Beutler and Bitter will surely do better than that.

But, “Dum vita est, spes est”, where there’s life, there’s hope. (It is the last bastion of a Catholic upbringing to roll out the Latin phrases). Celje must have a chance at home. The cauldron of Zlatorog Arena, and it is a cauldron, would make any player go weak at the knees. 6,000 fans, the “Florijani” boo the opposition’s every move and play, and sound like 40,000 when their team scores.

The coach, Matić, has some clever line-ups and some devious defensive strategies. Centre player Skube is very high quality, former Szeged playmaker, Lékai, misses out, and Mačkovšek and Zelenović can play from backcourt.

And don’t forget Marguč!!! 65 goals so far say he scores again. Here’s my opinion. If Celje go to war Hamburg will win. If Celje play fast intelligent handball, then like a big liner trying to turn at sea, Hamburg’s big men will struggle for speed. Another remnant of the clerical upbringing is hope. Nils Desperandum.

Further information
Follow Tom´s live commentary of the match of the week from Celje here and listen to the live audio here on Saturday, 16 March at 16:15 hrs local time

TEXT: Tom Ó Brannagáin, ehfTV commentator