The battle of the Spanish coachesArticle
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FINAL4 PREVIEW: In a repeat of the 2013 semi-final, Barcelona will face Kielce on Saturday. Dujshebaev is out to make history while Pascual sits in the favourite role.

The battle of the Spanish coaches

At least one Spanish coach and one Spanish player will make it to the final of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 2015 – Xavi Pascual and Talant Dujshebaev face off on the side line, while Julen Aguinagalde takes to the court against many compatriots playing for Barca. 

FC Barcelona (ESP) vs KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL)
Saturday 30 May, 15:15 hrs local times, live on

Both coaches have their Champions League merits: Pascual has one trophy from 2011, while Dujshebaev has led Ciudad Real to three titles, in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

The two met four years ago in the last all-Spanish final of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne (Barcelona vs Ciudad Real) – and it was Pascual who found his way to the winners’ podium. Then two years ago, Barcelona overcame Kielce in the semi-final with a 28:23 win. 

“But things have changed,” says Pascual. 

“Kielce have improved by gaining international experience. They belong with the top of Europe and they now play an even more physical style of handball.”

Dujshebaev is optimistic and intends to make use of his knowledge of Barcelona in the semi-final. 

“I expect an equal event. All four teams have nearly the same chance to win in the end – maybe Barcelona and Kiel are a little bit better.

 “Barcelona have almost the same squad as the last time I faced them, as Atletico Madrid coach, with one exception: Nikola Karabatic, the current best handball player in the world.”

The road to Cologne

On their way to Cologne, both teams lost only one match each: Barcelona were defeated by Polish runners-ups Plock in the group phase (and tied against Kolding in the same stage). 

Kielce were close to elimination in the Last 16, losing against Montpellier on home ground. 

But in the quarter-finals, the two semi-finalists left no doubts behind, with each winning both legs.

For the Polish side, it was a repeat of history – like in 2013 they won their group with ten wins from ten matches and faced a Skopje-based side in the quarter-finals (Metalurg in 2013 and Vardar in 2015).

Both sides have just defended their domestic titles – Barcelona finished the Spanish season unbeaten in all competitions, winning the league and all cups. Kielce had to fight hard in their last play-off match against Plock, but won the trophy again.

A recent history of German and Spanish dominance

If Kielce or Veszprém make it to the final, a long series will come to an end: Since 2005 only German and Spanish clubs had played in the EHF Champions League Final.

And if Kielce win this semi, the chances for a perfect weekend are great – the teams that beat Barca in the previous semi-finals in Cologne always went on to win the title. 

Barcelona have bad memories from their last appearance in Cologne, in 2014, when they let a six-goal advantage eight minutes before the end of the semi-final slip to lose against Flensburg after penalty shoot-out. 

“We have learned from this match like we learn from all matches,” says Pascual. 

Prior to 2014, when Barcelona made it to Cologne (2010, 2011, and 2013) they always reached the final, losing twice against German opponents.

Injuries and personal ambitions

Kielce have been hit with some problems: Aguinagalde, Uros Zorman (the only three-time EHF Champions League champion in their squad) and Tomasz Rosinski are injured. 

“I hope that all three of them will be ready to play in Cologne,” says Dujshebaev.

Dujshebaev’s focus is on Catalans’ incredible back court line-up, which includes former EHF Champions League top scorers Kiril Lazarov, Karabatic and Siarhei Rutenka. 

While Rutenka could win his sixth EHF Champions League trophy in Cologne, Lazarov has never raised the trophy – despite playing with powerhouse sides. 

Karabatic is aiming for his third triumph with his third club from a third country, after winning with Montpellier in 2003 and Kiel in 2007. 

With two wins in Cologne, Dujshebaev would join Alfred Gislason in being the only coaches to win the trophy with two different clubs (Magdeburg and Kiel). 

“I don’t think about this statistic. We only prepare for Barcelona and see what will happen,” Dujshebaev says.

TEXT: Björn Pazen / cg