Zagreb hoping for Blaugrana miracle against BarcelonaArticle
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PREVIEW: Spanish title holders Barcelona are odds-on favourites to complete the double over Croatian rivals HC PPD Zagreb and reach the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.

Zagreb hoping for Blaugrana miracle against Barcelona 

Zagreb and Barcelona produced an absolute classic in the first leg of their VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final in Croatia and the return leg in Spain should be just as absorbing when the two teams meet in the Blaugrana Arena on Saturday.

Having won 25:23 in Zagreb, Barcelona are in a commanding position to finish the job and reach the season-ending showdown but Zagreb are still nurturing hopes of pulling off what would constitute the biggest shock of the season in Europe’s premier club competition.

VELUX EHF Champions League quarter-final second leg:

FC Barcelona (ESP) vs HC PPD Zagreb (CRO)
Saturday 18 April, 18:30 hrs local time live on ehfTV

Barcelona produced a typically clinical performance in the first leg as they carved out a precious two-goal advantage but one of Europe’s biggest club handball giants know better than to take anything for granted against a youthful and talent-packed Zagreb team eager to at least bow out with their pride intact.

What is more, the Croatian title holders still have high hopes of springing an upset and knocking out their more heralded rivals.

But in order to achieve the seemingly impossible objective, they will have to play above their limits and coach Veselin Vujovic was none too happy about what he saw as lack of commitment in a laboured 29:25 Croatia league win over Nexe following the rip-roaring first leg against Barcelona.

Infuriated by a tepid second half which his team lost 15:14, Vujovic cancelled a planned day off the morning after and instead summoned his players for a punitive practice session at 7 am.

“We want to beat Barcelona away but that will remain a far-fetched dream if we play like we did in the second half against Nexe,” Vujovic was quoted as saying by daily Sportske Novosti.

“We have outstanding players and they put in a terrible performance after the interval, allowing the rival to win the second period. They have to prove their worth on the court every time and all I asked of them is to win the second half by a two-goal margin.”

Luka Stepancic, who impressed in the first leg against Barca with a game-high nine goals, was brimming with confidence shortly after the game in which he displayed his outstanding talent.

“I don’t think the return leg will be a foregone conclusion and we will try to stun Barcelona on their own court,” he said.

“With a bit more luck we could have earned a better result at home and I am convinced we have it in us to produce an excellent performance in Spain.”

Barcelona geared up for the return leg with a thumping 45:19 Spanish league win at MMT Seguros Zamora which handed them a fifth successive national title with five games to spare.

Danish line player Jesper Noddesbo led the charge with 10 goals as rampant Barca claimed their 22nd overall league title, clinching five in row for the third time in the club’s history after achieving the feat in the 1987-1992 period and then in 1995-2000.

Barcelona’s influential Macedonian right back Kiril Lazarov, a former Zagreb player, said there was no room for any sort of complacency against Zagreb after a hard-earned win in the first leg.

“We have to repeat this performance in the second leg if we are to secure a FINAL4 berth because Zagreb are a good away team,” he told Sportske Novosti.    


TEXT: Zoran Milosavljevic / br