Huge respect between two mastermindsArticle
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FACE TO FACE: Their height will not be the only reason Xavi Pascual and Ljubomir Vranjes will see eye to eye again on Sunday

Huge respect between two masterminds

They like each other and have highest respect for each other’s achievements, and on Sunday they will face-off for the second time in eight days.

Xavi Pascual and Ljubomir Vranjes coached one of the most entertaining VELUX EHF FINAL4 games last season and the second part of their eagerly-awaited double header takes place this weekend in Palau Blaugrana.

After the 33:37 defeat on home court on Saturday, Ljubomir Vranjes and his SG Flensburg-Handewitt side will be hosted by Xavi Pascual and FC Barcelona in the highlight of VELUX EHF Champions League Group B.

And face-to-face is a perfect description for this encounter, as there is little to separate the successful coaches in terms of height.

Vranjes (1.66 metres) and Pascual (1.73) have had a major impact on club handball in the previous years, belonging to the small group of only four coaches to win the VELUX EHF FINAL4, Pascual in 2011 and Vranjes in 2014.

Both have the highest respect for each other, both are in constant contact and both have nearly the same sense of humour.

Volcano Vranjes and mastermind Pascual went into battle on 31 May in one of the most remarkable matches in recent years.

With ten minutes on the clock and a comfortable six-goal lead on the board, Barcelona looked set for the final, but Vranjes struck back with a tactical measure, which shocked Barcelona.

Bringing all his young guns on court, Flensburg managed to equalise in the dying seconds of the regular time, kept the score level in extra-time and then caused the major sensation when Hampus Wanne netted the crucial penalty shot for a 41:39 win.

With that adrenalin still inside, 24 hours later Flensburg again closed a six-goal deficit against their local rivals THW Kiel to raise the trophy for the first time in club history, 29:26 in the final. Pascual and his squad finished the event ranked third and heavily disappointed.

Last Saturday they met again and took the time to talk to after Pascual and his team managed to avenge the defeat in Cologne. Please summarise in one sentence your thoughts on the clash in Cologne?

Xavi Pascual: The answer is easy, we lost and that’s sport.

Ljubomir Vranjes: Oh, it is so long ago….(laughs). But there are two things I remember: We won and the penalty shoot-out was quite thrilling. What do like most of your counterpart - and how is your relationship?

Xavi Pascual:  Ljubo is a really good person. We have had a very good relationship for a long time now. He always deserves the best and I cross my fingers for him, except when our clubs face each other. But I have biggest respect for him regardless. His players always talk in a very positive way about his job and this is an example how Ljubo is working. He’s very kind, we faced as players in the Spanish league and in the last years our relationship is really growing.

Ljubomir Vranjes: Xavi has a great handball knowledge and when you see Barcelona playing you recognise that this team really is influenced by him, this is what I like most. And I really appreciate that we can exchange our thoughts and talk about handball in general though we are in competition. We phone a lot and we have a real close and professional contact. Is there an aspect of your counterpart that you would like to have?

Xavi Pascual: I never take a look on my opponents. I have a lot of respect for Ljubo, his club and his job, but I’m totally satisfied with my club and my team.

Ljubomir Vranjes (laughing): I’d like to have Xavi’s budget! After the first group phase duel in Flensburg- who will celebrate next Sunday in Palau Blaugrana, Vranjes or Pascual?

Xavi Pascual: Very easy: The coach and the team that wins.

Ljubomir Vranjes: Vranjes, I hope for Vranjes! But we clearly need to improve in defence to have a chance. What makes Pascual vs Vranjes, or Flensburg vs Barcelona matches so special, the fact that it was after the historic VELUX EHF Champions League semi-final in May?

Xavi Pascual: Right now for me the most important thing is to get two more points to come closer to our first goal, reaching the Last 16, this was also my motivation for the match in Flensburg, not taking revenge.

Ljubomir Vranjes: No, it’s not only about this being the first duel after this great night in Cologne. FC Barcelona is FC Barcelona, there’s not much more to add. It is a great honour for me and the whole team to face a club like Barca. In addition, these matches make us happy, as they are something very special. Even though we lost, I am still very proud of the performance of my team. When you face again on Sunday, is there a favourite?

Xavi Pascual: I don’t believe that the home team always is supposed to be the favourite. Flensburg are the reigning champions, that says it all. And Flensburg can win in Barcelona as can Kolding, so the group is anything but decided

Ljubomir Vranjes: Barcelona are the favourites as they do not only have the home right but also certain advantages in terms of the squad. Nevertheless, we are looking forward to this match.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cor