“Fighting until the last drop of sweat”Article
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NEWS FEATURE: FC Barcelona hopes for a magic night in their theatre of dreams and a miracle against Löwen

“Fighting until the last drop of sweat”

He climbs the ladder, stands on top of the magic arena, put his hand to the heart – and then the sound of drums starts, seem to beat “more than club, more than a club”.

Team captain Victor Tomas is the main actor of a promotional video of FC Barcelona to activate all fans to make a miracle happen. Standing on top of Palau Blaugrana, Tomas first infects his team mates, then the crowd – under the slogan: “To reach the FINAL4, we need your support. Do not miss it, hear the call of the handball team of FC Barcelona and come to Palau Blaugrana on 26 April against Rhein Neckar Löwen!”

This YouTube video was shot before the first leg of the quarter-final, but it is more relevant than ever.

Unexpectedly, the giant FCB was given a severe blow by Rhein Neckar Löwen in a historic first quarter-final leg, defeated by 31:38 and trailing at one point by eleven goals at 19:30.

The team was in a state of shock, but now FC Barcelona are holding on to what little hope they have for the second leg on Saturday, relying on a fully packed arena to provide the team with extra power and re-enact memories of even bigger defeats Barca had turned around on home court in the past.

“The start of this training week was a little bit difficult after this defeat, but now those feelings are gone,” said five-time EHF Champions League Siarhei Rutenka in an interview with the FC Barcelona website.

Rutenka speaks about the “wounded pride” of FC Barcelona, but: “I am sure that we can do it, to close down this seven goal deficit, I am full of confidence.”

Rutenka hopes that “standing united as a team and feeling the support of the fans,” will be the keys to create another magical night in Palau Blaugrana: “We urgently need the public.”

To achieve a sold-out arena, FCB announced that club members have free entry to certain designated places, while others only have to pay five euro to enter the “theatre of handball dreams”.

“We will give our last drop of sweat, whatever will happen,” Rutenka promises the fans.

“It is a long time ago that we have lost a match at Palau Blaugrana and we know that our fans will push us to the limit in a hopefully sold-out arena,” said confident coach Xavi Pascual.

“Palau has granted us with incredible success in the past decades, and as recently as last season against Madrid,” Victor Tomas spoke out about the hopes of team, club and spectators.

Exactly 364 days prior to the second leg against Löwen, Barcelona managed to turn around a 20:25 deficit from the first leg of the quarter-final to finally book the ticket to the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne with a 32:24 win on home court. “This result should be a clear warning and signal for us,” said Löwen playmaker Andy Schmid.

Using history to predict the future

FC Barcelona and Spanish media even dig deeper in handball history to find past examples of such matches.

It was the season 1985/86, when Barcelona turned around a seven-goal deficit in international competition twice with home wins: first against Vikingur (Iceland) in the semi-finals (13:20/22:12) and then against CSKA Moscow in the final (23:30/27:20).

However, the only time Barcelona had lost a knock-out first leg match against a German team by exactly seven goals, they had no such luck.

In the finals of the 2001/02 EHF Cup season, Barcelona lost the first leg at THW Kiel 29:36 and the 28:24 win in the reverse fixture was not enough to raise the trophy.

The 31:38 in Mannheim last Sunday was the fifth clearest defeat in Barca’s international competition history, with the clearest one a 12:26 loss at Red Star Belgrade in 1970. The overall balance of EHF Champions League quarter-final matches of FC Barcelona is clearly positive with 17 victories, one draw and only seven defeats.

The last time Barcelona failed against a German team in the quarter-finals was in 2007, when they were defeated by Flensburg.

On the other hand, Rhein-Neckar Löwen have only won one of three away matches in the quarter-finals, but what a win: 35:26 in Montpellier in 2011, which saw them make it to Cologne, only to be beaten by Barcelona in the semi-final.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor