All or nothing in the second legArticle
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ROUND PREVIEW: There’s one more chance for the remaining eight teams to prove they are worthy of a place at the VELUX EHF FINAL4 with the four matches guaranteeing some thrilling moments ahead

»EHF CL Channel »2013-14 Men's News

All or nothing in the second leg

On Sunday afternoon the final die will be cast when the final buzzer of THW Kiel vs HC Metalurg sounds in Sparkassenarena, all participants of the 2014 VELUX EHF FINAL4 will be confirmed. Only two days later, the draw event will take place in Cologne (11:30 hrs. local time, streamed live on

Before that, 240 thrilling minutes of top handball awaits in four different countries – with only one pairing seemingly decided already, after Kiel won their away match in Skopje by ten goals.

The other six teams have declared “it’s only half-time” as their motto, even the seven-goal lead for Rhein-Neckar Löwen against FC Barcelona does not make the German side feel really comfortable.

Two debutants will definitely be in the pot of the draw event, as none of the four clubs from the pairings of Veszprém vs PSG and Vardar vs Flensburg has been to Cologne before.

THW Kiel (GER) vs. Metalurg Skopje (MKD)
Sunday, 14:15 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 31:21

Never before in the history of the EHF Champions League has a home team lost a ten-goal advantage from an away leg of a quarter-final, and since 9 October 2011 THW Kiel are unbeaten in the VELUX EHF Champions League on home court. These two statistics show that this tie is all but done and dusted.

Despite the clear 31:21 away win, THW coach Alfred Gislason still is fully focused on the task at hand: “We are the favourites now, but we should not think about Cologne before the match is over.”

Kiel have been to the final destination of this competition on three occasions since its premiere in 2010, winning the trophy in 2010 and 2012, but finishing fourth in 2013.

“I hope that THW will now win the cup again,” said Metalurg coach Lino Cervar, already congratulating the opponent after his team had been overrun in the first leg at home, leaving them without a trace of hope for the return game.

Vardar Skopje (MKD) vs. SG Flensburg-Handewitt (GER)
Saturday, 17:00 hrs local time live on – first leg: 22:24

“Everything is fully open, nothing is decided,” is the clear message of Vardar’s Spanish coach Raul Gonzales prior to the rematch. His team had not been beaten by an international opponent at home in this season’s competition at Boris Trajkovski arena, after draws with FC Barcelona, HSV Hamburg and PSG Handball.

However, a draw this time is not enough to open a new chapter in Macedonian handball history. Vardar need to win by three goals, or by two, if they hold Flensburg to fewer than 22 goals.

“I really do not hope that our fans already think that we managed to proceed. The journey to Cologne is still steep,” Vardar wing Matjaz Brumen warns.

After failing in their last three quarter-final attempts in this competition, Flensburg hope to make their maiden voyage to Cologne – and celebrate their jubilee game, as the encounter at Skopje is their 200th European Cup duel.

“The glass is half full, not half empty, maybe it is even three quarters full,” says Flensburg manager Dierk Schmäschke: “We know what we have to expect in Skopje, but we still have the fate in our hands, despite missing a host of chances to finish the first leg with a clearer lead.”

After winning the SEHA Liga for the second time since 2012, Vardar are flying high, but Flensburg have their local arch rivals THW Kiel as a kind of role model. “They have shown that it is possible to win at the Boris Trajkovski Arena. We are also going to Skopje to win,” said SG coach Ljubomir Vranjes, full of optimism.

FC Barcelona (ESP) vs. Rhein Neckar Löwen (GER)
Saturday, 20:15 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 31:38

Is it already said and done? “No” say both sides, despite a seven-goal win for Löwen after a feast of handball excellence in the first leg. By looking upon the history of EHF Champions League quarter-finals there are two examples of hope for Barcelona.

In the 2011/12 season Füchse Berlin managed to turn around an eleven-goal deficit against Ademar Leon to make it to Cologne.

Secondly, last season Barcelona themselves had lost the first leg of the quarter-final at Atletico Madrid by 20:25, only to reduce the gap in just 17 minutes in the rematch on home court, leading by 9:3 and finally winning 32:24.

A repeat of the Madrid score would also be enough to make it to the fifth edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne on 31 May/1 June 2014.

“A weak start can end up all our hopes, and those seven goals can be made up by a team like Barca within minutes,” warns Löwen coach Gudmundur Gudmundsson.

“We played a massive game for 45 minutes in the first leg, but still nothing is decided, as everybody knows what can and might happen in Palau Blaugrana,” adds Löwen manager Thorsten Storm, “maybe Barcelona had not been used to an opponent, which plays on a level like we did, as they are not challenged in the Spanish league.”

Löwen’s in-form Swiss playmaker Andy Schmid has his own calculation for reaching the FINAL4 in Cologne: “We expect pure hell in Barcelona. Before the first leg, our chances to proceed had been 40:60, now they are maybe 52:48 per cent in our favour.”

On the other hand, Barca’s hopes rest mostly on the fact that they reduced the gap from eleven goals (19:30) to seven and knowing that they have had huge wins, such as the 38:28 against fellow quarter-finalist PSG, on home court this season.

“We will try everything, counting on our home strength and our spectators,” said coach Xavi Pascual. Team captain Victor Tomas added: “It will be really tough, but still we must and we can hope to reach one of our season goals, to make it to Cologne.”

History between the sides favours slightly for Löwen, as their one and only match at Palau Blaugrana ended victorious, with a 31:30 win in the first match of Gudmundsson as Löwen coach in the 2010/11 season. Saturday will be his final match abroad as coach before he takes over as Danish national team coach in the summer.

MKB-MVM Veszprém (HUN) vs. PSG Handball (FRA)
Saturday, 16:00 hrs. local time live on – first leg: 28:26

Will we see a Hungarian or French debut in this season’s VELUX EHF FINAL4? This question will be answered on Saturday. The situation appears to be quite good for Veszprém, who take a two-goal lead back to their fortress, where they have not been beaten in this season’s campaign. However, their last defeat at home came at his very stage last season against THW Kiel.

Right before their final step towards Cologne, Veszprém announced some important news on their future squad, with wing player Cristian Ugalde and goalkeeper Miro Alilovic extending their contracts until 2018, while goalkeeper Roland Mikler will arrive from Szeged, joining right back Christian Zeitz, who announced his move from THW Kiel at the beginning of this season.

“Although we won the first leg, nothing is decided. We start again at zero. If you face a team like Paris, it does not matter whether it is a two goal lead or down by four, anything can happen,” said Veszprém star Laszlo Nagy.

His coach Carlos Ortega agrees: “It is a really dangerous result. Never before has Veszprém been so close to Cologne, but we have to be fully aware for 60 minutes. Paris easily scored five straight goals in five minutes in the first leg and if this happens again, we can miss out once again. Those who think we are already through to Cologne, is making a big, big mistake.”

PSG coach Philippe Gardent agrees that the final outcome is far from certain.

“A margin between two and five goals, regardless for which side, does not make a huge difference.

“But we know that we must expect one of the hottest arenas in Europe, in which it will be terribly hard to win, but we will try,” says Gardent, who adds that “Veszprém are more rehearsed than our side and clearly have the bigger international experience. We still have room for improvement in our squad.”

Veszprem vs PSG will be the Match of the Week, with live English commentary by Tom O Brannagain.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor