To live and die on this dayArticle
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ehfTV commentator Tom O Brannagain guarantees a Shakespeare drama in the Match of the Week in the first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-finals in Mannheim

To live and die on this day

"Two Households, both alike in dignity
In fair Mannheim, where we lay our scene
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny.”

Shakespeare’s, paraphrased, prelude to Romeo and Juliet is apt for our MOTW this week in fair Mannheim. If; “All the world’s a stage”, then the handball court is no exception and the drama that will unfold in this CL game is a fitting mise-en-scene for our first knockout match of the last eight.

The continuation of the line is: “we are merely players”. They are not merely players on show in this, the greatest of games, but the apotheosis of training, skill and tactical awareness.

The two houses are Barcelona and RNL. The grudge is an old one. A FINAL4 defeat by Barcelona of RNL in 2011! The Catalans went on to win the title in that year and the Lions licked their wounds. It was revenge for a Barcelona team, inexplicably beaten at home by RNL earlier in the group phase the same season. 14 of the men involved that day will once more defend their houses honour.

Fast forward 3 years to this weekend’s action

The team from Spain comes to this game, in a blaze of glory having swept aside everything in its way, en route to the Asobal title. They are the “Invincibles” of Spain. RNL come on the back of a resurgent season, in the CL, that has seen them knock out Kielce, but also have a stuttering display in the German Cup FINAL4.

The visit of Kiel, on Wednesday, led to a win in the Bundesliga, which put the Lions in pride of place at the top.

I really like this team that Gudmundur has built. They were one of my favourites for the FINAL4, but an arduous knockout phase may just have caught up with them.

Because Barcelona is the epitome of the legal phrase; “Res Ipsa Loquitur”, loosely translated, meaning, the thing speaks for itself. Full of world class players, evolving systems of defence and attack and the ability to morph into something completely different at all times during the game.

RNL will not have faced any other opposition that directly correlate to this team. Just when you think you have them sewn up, they rip up the tactics book and rip you to shreds. Only Metalurg has beaten them and on that day they were already safe and the coach deployed some of his lesser used players.

Rutenka didn’t play and he is a vital cog in the Barca machinery. It is a blot on the copybook, but more, it is a reminder to refocus the minds.
This match is the equivalent of the movie “The Grey”, starring Liam Neeson. In the movie a group of aeroplane survivors are stalked by a pack of wolves. Normally it’s the lions that do the stalking but in this case, Barcelona has the whole pack. Their defence is too solid, their attack too fluid and their hunger never sated.

In the movie Neeson refers back to a poem his father used to quote him:

“Once more into the fray,
Into the last good fight I’ll ever know,
Live and die on this day,
Live and die on this day.”

It’s a little melodramatic, I’ll agree, but it’s the attitude RNL must take into this game on this day. It could be the last great fight in the CL for Gudmundur as he sails off to pastures new at the end of the season. And he is a great tactician. The problem for him is how much information his lions can take on board about this team, because there is danger from every angle.

There is a little light for him. The idea that Barca has two world class players in each position is not quite true. If Rutenka, Entrerrios, Karabatic, Viran, Sorhaindo, Nodesbo, Tomas, Lazarov and Juanin are all fit, then they are up against it. The players behind them are either, not at this level, or in some cases, not having the greatest of seasons. Add to that the injury of Sterbik and Barca must have a great game from Saric.

We know the crowd of 14,000 in the SAP arena will roar on the Lions. We know this team is never defeated. The question now becomes whether a tough Bundesliga season has battle-hardened them enough to overcome the freshness of a team like Barcelona which only has the CL to focus on.

For us it is a chance to witness either the greatest ever assemblage of players, playing to their stellar reputations or witnessing said team being dismantled by heart and courage and no little skill. The backing of the fans and their groundswell of emotion will be vital to the latter occurrence.

We started with the prelude from Romeo and Juliet and this is the conclusion.

“Is now the two hours traffic of our stage;
The which if you with patient ears attend,
What here shall miss, their toil shall strive to mend”.

Two hours of a feast for the eyes, ears and emotions. The greatest of stages for the greatest of players!

“To live and die on this day”, figuratively of course.

TEXT: Tom O Brannagain, ehfTV commentator