A sad day for Hombrados, a historic day for BarcelonaArticle
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FINAL4 LOOKS BACK: The series on the previous editions of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 continues with the year the Catalans took their seventh title: 2011. The series will feature on ehfCL.com every Sunday until the 2015 showdown on 30/31 May.

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A sad day for Hombrados, a historic day for Barcelona

Since the implementation of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne (and even further back, to the 2005/06 season), only two nations have been represented at the EHF Champions League finals: Germany and Spain. 

2011 marked a very special piece of history, as it was the first, and so far last, time two Spanish teams (Ciudad Real and FC Barcelona) fought for the most important trophy in European club handball in Cologne. 

It was also the fifth final clash between teams from the ASOBAL league.

“I fear that it will be – for a long time – the last all-Spanish final in the EHF Champions League. Due to the financial situation and the current level of the Spanish league, FC Barcelona will be the only Spanish team with a chance of making it to Cologne,” says BM Atletico Madrid goalkeeper Jose Javier Hombrados. 

The 2005 World Champion was part of the 2011 final, which marked another piece of history for him personally. It was his fifth and last EHF Champions League final in the Ciudad Real jersey – and the second he lost, both times against FC Barcelona. 

Back in 2005, when the winner was decided in two finals, only one goal was missing in aggregate for Ciudad Real (55:56) to take the trophy. 

In 2011, the final result of 27:24 did not reflect the difference between the teams: 

“We were chanceless – Barcelona were too strong,” Hombrados looks back.

The 2011 final paved the way for a long-term partnership between the EHF, EHF Marketing and the LANXESS arena, which has just been extended to 2020. 

“Even though there was no German team in the final, the arena was packed and the spectators created a sensational atmosphere. From that moment on, we knew Cologne was the right place for this pinnacle event,” says EHF President Jean Brihault.

After THW Kiel won the inaugural VELUX EHF FINAL4 in 2010, a strange series started, which is yet to end: No champion has been able to defend their title in Cologne. 

Kiel did not even make it to the LANXESS arena in 2011, as they lost against FC Barcelona twice in the quarter-finals, but the German Bundesliga was still represented by two clubs: HSV Hamburg and Rhein Neckar Löwen. 

Both were defeated in the semis: Barca beat Löwen 30:28 and Ciudad Real won their third straight knockout stage match (either quarter-final or semi-final) against Hamburg since 2009, 28:23.

“This semi was incredible, though it started with a shocking moment for us, as our goalkeeper Arpad Sterbik got injured in the very first minute. I stepped in, and I think I played one of my best matches in the jersey for Ciudad Real,” says Hombrados, who at the age of 43 is still a professional player at German side HSG Wetzlar.

Hombrados was the first ever player to win the EHF Champions League five times with three different clubs: 1994 with Santander, 2001 with Portland San Antonio, followed by the triple (2006, 2008 and 2009) with Ciudad Real. 

In total, he was part of eight Champions League finals – the last one also in Cologne, when he lost to THW Kiel in 2012 with Atletico Madrid, the successor of Ciudad Real. It was the first time, Hombrados lost a final against a German team, after beating THW twice in 2008 and 2009.

“Cologne and I are a sad story,” Hombrados says today. 

“Three consecutive times I was part of the greatest event of club handball, but never won the trophy. Unbelievable, especially as I was a finalist twice. 

“In 2011 we lacked the power and we were hit by the fact that Alberto Entrerrios was out with a fever.”

In the 2011 final, another player levelled the Hombrados record: Siarhei Rutenka, Hombrados’ former teammate, won his fifth trophy after the three with Ciudad Real and the 2004 edition with RK Pivovarna Lasko Celje – now with his new club FC Barcelona. 

“Siarhei is one of the greatest players. You are very lucky if you have this ‘fighting machine’ in your team and you should be very wary if he is in the opposing team,” says Hombrados, who at the moment is not sad about losing his record: 

“Maybe in ten years when we all sit together we can laugh about this fact. I think only journalists and hard-core fans know about those records. It’s simply statistics.”

While Ciudad Real left the court empty-handed, Barcelona jumped for joy on that 31 May after making their piece of history. Less than 24 hours after the Barca football team won the UEFA Champions League thanks to a 3:1 win at Wembley Stadium against Manchester United, the handball team took their Champions League trophy – so for the first time ever, both Champions League winners were from the same club at the same time.

While the football team took their fourth title, the handball record winners extended their tally to trophy number seven (or eight, if you count the Champions’ Cup, forerunner of the EHF Champions League). 

2011 was Barcelona’s last triumph in Cologne, though they qualified for the VELUX EHF FINAL in 2013 (losing the final against Hamburg after extra time) and 2014 (losing the semi against Flensburg after a penalty shootout).

And 2015? Hombrados is unsure which team he would bet on. 

“Talant Dujshebaev was my coach for a long time in Ciudad Real, so on one hand I cross my fingers for Kielce. I am a Spaniard, so I cross my fingers for Barcelona. I play in Germany, so I cross my fingers for Kiel. 

“And to be honest, Veszprem can also make it to the final, as I highly appreciate the work of Carlos Ortega.” 

But after thinking and calculating, Hombrados hopes for the “dream final” of Kiel vs. Barcelona. 

Hombrados is proud of the teams’ benches: 

“It is significant this year that we have a Spanish influence with three Spanish coaches. It is trendy to have them all over the world, like Valero Rivera in Qatar. And the Spanish system is successful. 

“But still there’s Alfred Gislason on the other side, who knows exactly how to prepare Kiel.” 

Hombrados will again go to the “theatre of handball dreams” in Cologne this year (30/31 May); for the first time not as a player, but as a spectator. 

“The FINAL4 is the greatest event, with the best atmosphere, 20,000 spectators and entertainment around the matches. It’s definitely the place to be that weekend.”

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg