"Have to play the semi-final without any thought of the final"Article
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INTERVIEW: Nikola Karabatic hopes for his third EHF Champions League title with his third club and believes Barcelona's defence will be the key to success in the semi-final against KS Vive Tauron Kielce

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"We have to play the semi-final without any thought of the final"

2015 marks the second time current World Handball Player of the Year Nikola Karabatic will be part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne. In 2014, the left back lost in the semi-final against Flensburg with FC Barcelona. This year the 31-year-old hopes for his third trophy in the competition with his third club from a third country – the Frenchman won the title in 2003 with Montpellier Agglomeration HB and in 2007 with THW Kiel. The three-time world and EHF EURO champion and two-time Olympic champion expects a tough semi-final against KS Vive Tauron Kielce, but is also confident that the Barcelona defence can lead to success in Cologne.

ehfcl.com: It has already been eight years since you won the EHF Champions League for the last time with your former club THW Kiel. How big is your hunger for the next trophy?

Nikola Karabatic: Very big. I want to win the VELUX EHF FINAL4 this year.

ehfcl.com: Looking at all your trophies: World Championship, EHF EURO and Olympic gold medals – what status does the VELUX EHF Champions League and potentially the Champions League trophy hold for you?

Nikola Karabatic: A Champions League title has the same level as the others, though maybe winning the Olympic Games is an even bigger success. But to finish a Champions League season on top of the podium is the same level as winning a World Championship or EHF EURO. In terms of club competitions there’s nothing bigger to win than the Champions League.

ehfcl.com: In 2014 you were part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 for the first time in your career – what were your impressions of the event?

Nikola Karabatic: Looking back I really have great impressions: It is a great event with great organisation. Only one thing might be changed: For players it would fit better if we had a day off between the semi-finals and the final day.

ehfcl.com: Is the LANXESS arena something of a bad omen for you? You lost the 2014 semi-final there, and also the World Championship 2007 Semi-final against Germany.

Nikola Karabatic: No, the arena is not a bad omen for me – I have won there and I have lost there. For example when I was a Kiel player we won there against Gummersbach in the Bundesliga.

ehfcl.com: What have FC Barcelona and you personally learned from last season’s FINAL4, when you missed the final?

Nikola Karabatic: That we have to play the semi-final without any thought of the final, before we have reached it.

ehfcl.com: Some say Barcelona are much stronger this year compared with 2014 – what has changed?

Nikola Karabatic: We changed our way of defending a little bit and how we train. We train and prepare for matches much harder this season compared to the previous one.

ehfcl.com: How do you rate your semi-final opponent Vive Tauron Kielce?

Nikola Karabatic: To face Kielce in Cologne is much more difficult than a lot of people say or believe. Anybody who says we are the clear favourites does not know the Polish team and their strengths. They play on a really high level – the same level we play. Kielce are one of the best teams in Europe with a great coach, Talant Dujshebaev, and a great squad.

ehfcl.com: With Kiel you lost two finals against Ciudad Real, a team coached by Talant Dujshebaev. Is this a late chance for revenge?

Nikola Karabatic: No, no, no! Those finals in 2008 and 2009 are history now. They were great matches with only little differences that decided the small margin of goals and the winners, so I have no revengeful feelings because of those matches – I only want to win the semi-final against Kielce.

ehfcl.com: Barcelona are named most often as the favourite this year. Do you agree with it?

Nikola Karabatic: It is always the same. FC Barcelona are one of the greatest teams in Europe and as usual, people award us with the favourite role.

ehfcl.com: What does Barcelona’s preparation look like this year?

Nikola Karabatic: We arrive in a good state of fitness and we are ready to play – that’s all!

ehfcl.com: What will be Barcelona‘s keys for success in Cologne?

Nikola Karabatic: We are very strong in defence this season, which also means great support for our two great goalkeepers, so I believe defence will be the key to success for FC Barcelona in Cologne.

ehfcl.com: Is it an advantage or a disadvantage that Barcelona have no real competition in the Spanish league?

Nikola Karabatic: I don’t think the situation in the Spanish league is an advantage for us, but in contrast with some experts’ opinions I do not attribute this situation to be the key factor for our semi-final defeat last season against Flensburg. I don‘t think this situation will have any influence on our performance in Cologne.

ehfcl.com: If Barcelona beat Kielce in the semi-final, would it be a dream final for you against your former club THW Kiel?

Nikola Karabatic: I have played several matches with my former club Montpellier against Kiel, so it is nothing so new for me. But to be honest, I don‘t think about anything else than the semi-final against Kielce yet.

ehfcl.com: Is the fact that you can be the second player to hold all four major titles – Olympic, World Championship, EHF EURO and Champions League – at the same time, after Thierry Omeyer did it in 2010, a special motivation for you?

Nikola Karabatic: I’m not thinking about awards and trophy records. I will have time for those things when I have finished my career.

TEXT: Björn Pazen