Circle is closing for GudmundssonArticle
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FEATURE: Icelandic coach’s first ever match as Löwen coach was in Barcelona, where his international journey with this club will conclude as well.

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Circle is closing for Gudmundsson

“It was the third of September. That day I'll always remember, yes I will” is the first line of the famous Temptations song “Papa was a rolling stone”. The adapted version of Gudmundur Gudmundsson would start like: “It was the 25th of September. That day I'll always remember, yes I will.”

25 September 2010 the Icelandic coach will never forget. Just 36 hours before this match, the former sports director had been appointed new coach of Rhein Neckar Löwen, as successor of Ola Lindgren and Kent-Harry Andersson.

Then he had his debut as Löwen coach right in a temple of handball – Palau Blaugrana, the place where FC Barcelona celebrated six EHF Champions League trophies and dozens of domestic titles.

Only four months before this match, Barca were finalists of the premiere VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne, losing the thrilling final against THW Kiel.

No doubt, in the opener of the VELUX EHF Champions League group phase, they were the clear favourites on home court. In addition Löwen needed to march through the wildcard qualification, because they missed the direct ticket.

David vs. Goliath classic

David fought brave, led 14:13 at the break, before the empire stroke back, forging ahead to 25:21 nine minutes before the final buzzer. But then the tides sensationally turned again – and Löwen conquered the “fortress of Palau Blaugrana” with a 31:30 win thanks to ten goals of Ivan Cupic.

“Nobody ever – including me –expected a match and a result like this,” Gudmundur Gudmundsson says nowadays.

“It was a genuine experience in Palau Blaugrana, my memories in Barcelona are anything but bad.”

Back to the start

On 26 April 2014 Gudmundsson’s circle will close where it all started. The second leg of the quarter-finals of Rhein-Neckar Löwen at Barcelona will be Gudmundsson’s last international match on the Löwen bench beyond German borders. Even if his team eliminates Barcelona, the final destination is Cologne.

From June on, Gudmundsson will take over the Denmark’s national team as a successor of Ulrik Wilbek. If Löwen manage to proceed to Cologne, his last match day of work would be on 1 June, attended by 20,000 spectators.

But back to the 2010/11 season. After the shocking away win, Löwen tied in another historic match 38:38 in the second leg with the Catalan side to finally finish on the second position of their group.

Yet this was not the last duel with Barcelona, as both sides made it to Cologne, where Barcelona giants had to really struggle hard to reach the final of the 2011 edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

They won 30:28 against Lions in the semi-final and later-on celebrated their seventh and by now the last title in this competition after beating Ciudad Real.

“My personal balance with Barcelona is not so bad, nearly equal,” says Gudmundsson, the former Icelandic national team coach, who led his compatriots to Olympic silver in Beijing.

Hammer draw

He hopes for another sensation in the 2014 quarter-finals.

“Of course this draw is a hammer. But I also know that Barcelona do not rate us as an easy opponent. We don’t have to hide anything after the brilliant season we have shown so far.”

Despite his hopes, Gudmundsson expects Barca to be in the favourite role – not only for the quarter-finals, but for the trophy too.

“They have an incredibly strong team, which have been strengthened clearly in the last years. The icing on the cake was the transfer of Nikola Karabatic before this season. In my opinion they have the best squad of all Champions League teams.”

But the Löwen coach and his team are confident. “Everything is possible for us. Barcelona have a clear advantage, as due to the situation in the Spanish league, they can fully focus on the Champions League quarter-finals.

“We have a real tough schedule ahead with the German Cup final tournament in Hamburg on Saturday and Sunday, followed by our home match against THW Kiel on Wednesday, which might decide the German championship – and only four days later we face Barcelona.”

Despite this situation, Gudmundsson is optimistic that the match in Palau Blaugrana will indeed be his last Champions League match beyond German borders, but not his final Champions League match.

“We have the chances to progress to Cologne. I have not calculated how high the rates are, but we will do everything to reach the final destination again.”

TEXT: Björn Pazen / br