Third time, third clubArticle
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INTERVIEW: Barcelona star Nikola Karabatic talks about the Catalans' chances in the Match of the Week

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Third time, third club

Nikola Karabatic watched the top of the table clash in the German Bundesliga on Wednesday, when Rhein Neckar Löwen beat THW Kiel by 29:26 to take first place. On Sunday Karabatic and his team FC Barcelona will be hosted by Löwen in the Match of the Week in the fist leg of the VELUX EHF Champions league Quarter-finals.

Before the first encounter with the German side; the three-time EHF EURO champion (2006, 2010, 2014), double world (2009 and 2011) and Olympic champion (2008, 2012) and two-time winner of the EHF Champions League (2003, 2007) spoke to about the task the newly crowned Spanish champions (his first Spanish title after becoming French and German champion before) need to fulfil. Karabatic joined FCB at the start of his season, before he played for MAHB Montpellier and THW Kiel in Europe's elite competition.

Karabatic has mixed memories on knock-out stage matches at SAP Arena in Mannheim: In the 2008/2009 season – his  last at THW Kiel – he managed to make it to the final, scoring an overall of 13 goals in both semis of THW vs Löwen.

But two season later, Karabatic and his club MAHB Montpellier had their Waterloo against Löwen: After winning the first leg of the quarter-final by 29:27 at Mannheim, the French side lost on home ground by 26:35 and missed the qualification for the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne – and Löwen faced Barcelona in the semi.

Karabatic has a huge respect for his upcoming opponent, as he mentions in this interview. Are you looking forward to play on German ground again?

Nikola Karabatic: Defintely! In Germany everything is little bit different compared to Spain or France, the arenas are bigger and sold-out, the atmosphere is special, it is really fun to play in Germany and I have been away from SAP arena some years now. The last time to played in this venue, you took the victory with Montpellier, but then failed to qualify for the 2011 VELUX EHF FINAL4 after a clear home defeat in the second leg. Is there some sort of revenge in order?

Nikola Karabatic: It is years ago, but it was really bitter to miss out on qualification for the pinnacle event. But I have to say that two years before I made it to the final with THW Kiel, so everything is in the past, on Sunday everything stars at zero, with two very different teams. Is it a special motivation to enter the court as newly crowned Spanish champions?

Nikola Karabatic: No. Unfortunately the Spanish league is not what is was before. It has been obvious for months that we would become champions, the only open question was when it will happen. Now it has happened, we can fully focus on the Champions League. As Barcelona have no opponents at their level in Asobal league and Löwen had to give all for 60 minutes to beat Kiel on Wednesday – is it an advantage for your club that your squad could save some energy?

Nikola Karabatic: To be honest: Yes. As of yet, it was really not that hard to win all matches in the Spanish league. Our big motivation is to finish the season with a clean record. Would you agree that compared to your Spanish rivals, Löwen are of a completely different strength?

Nikola Karabatic: Indeed! Despite missing the German cup final last weekend, Löwen have had a strong season in all competitions and sit top of the Bundesliga now, which says it all. Löwen have been brilliant in Europe and deservedly eliminated a top team like Kielce in the Last 16. We are aware of a really strong opponent, maybe the strongest we had to face this season. Do you estimate your team to be the favourite in the quarter-finals and to win the trophy?

Nikola Karabatic: I do not expect any favourite in those two quarter-finals, I expect two close and open games. Our only advantage is that we won our group in the first stage of the competition, so we have the second leg on home court and it has been quite a while since Barcelona lost a match at Palau Blaugrana.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor