Will five goals be enough for Kiel’s FINAL4 ticket?Article
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QUARTER-FINAL PREVIEW: Barcelona host Kiel with a five-goal deficit to turn around and the chance to be the club’s only Champions League semi-finalist.

Will five goals be enough for Kiel’s FINAL4 ticket?

One giant will miss the VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne – and right now it is FC Barcelona Lassa under pressure. As Barcelona’s football and basketball teams have missed the semi-finals or final tournaments of their respective Champions or Euro League competitions, only the club’s handball team still has the chance to go all the way.

But the way is steep and winding after the Catalan team’s 24:29 defeat in the first quarter-final leg against arch rivals THW Kiel.

So the eight-time EHF Champions League winners and defending champions set all their hopes in the magic of Palau Blaugrana ahead of the re-match on home ground, which is the ehfTV Match of the Week, with the knowledge that "turning matches around there is a crucial part of the club’s DNA."

FC Barcelona Lassa (ESP) vs THW Kiel (GER)
Saturday 30 April, 18:30 local time live on ehfTV

10-9-1 – last Sunday THW Kiel again took the lead in the long-lasting series of duels with FC Barcelona, when they won the 20th clash of the handball titans by an unexpectedly clear 29:24.

“But still, we are not the favourites to proceed to the VELUX EHF FINAL4. Barca is Barca, especially when they play on home ground,” says Kiel coach Alfred Gislason.

THW are in a special situation in terms of preserving the series of success of German club handball. As Flensburg were eliminated from the VELUX EHF FINAL4 by Kielce on Wednesday, a Kiel failure will mean the event in Germany will take place out without a German team for the first time.

It will also mean no German club would be part of EHF Champions League semi-finals for the first time since 2005.

“We have a good base, though we know that this is a dangerous result,” says left wing Dominik Klein, who was the top scorer of the first leg with nine goals.

Barca’s history of overcoming first-leg deficits

Klein has the 2014 quarter-finals in his mind: Two years ago Barcelona seemed to be eliminated after losing 31:38 but then turned the tide with a 31:24 victory to make it to Cologne thanks to the number of away goals.

Barcelona have turned a deficit of five or more into a ticket for the next knock-out stage six times in the history of this competition, and have left the court victorious 38 of the 39 times they have played knock-out matches on home ground.

Most worrying for Kiel is the fact that the only time the German team were eliminated in the EHF Champions League knock-out stage after winning the first leg by five goals (30:25) was at Barcelona, when they were defeated 27:33 in the 2005 quarter-finals.

Both sides have been part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 five times each, and both have triumphed at Cologne twice – but Barcelona coach Xavi Pascual says “this season it is completely unsure that the winner of this quarter-final will take the trophy on 29 May.”

The last time Kiel failed to qualify for the FINAL4 was in 2011, when they were beaten twice by the Catalans. Barcelona most recently missed a ticket to Cologne in 2012, when they lost in aggregate against AG Kobenhavn.

The challenge of defending the title

Another series might continue on Saturday night: Since the implementation of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 format, not one champion club defended their title the following season. Flensburg (2014) and Hamburg (2013) were eliminated in the Last 16 a year after they raised the trophy, Barcelona (2011) and Kiel (2010) failed in the quarter-final, and after winning again in 2012 Kiel lost in the 2013 semi-final.

Another troubling piece of history for Kiel is the fact that this is the third time they face Barcelona in the EHF Champions League quarter-final – and both previous occasions ended with victory for the Catalan team.

Kiel did eliminate Barcelona in the 2008 semi-final, but they needed a ten-goal win on home ground as an insurance policy heading into Blaugrana for the return leg to do it.

Kiel’s hopes are carried by two key players, line player Patrick Wiencek and right back Steffen Weinhold, who had their international comebacks in the first leg, while Barcelona hope for general improvement:

“We can play much better than we did in Kiel,” says Filip Jicha, one of Barcelona’s three former THW players who face their old teammates in this duel.

Before their first-leg quarter-final loss Barcelona had won all but one match this Champions League season – their group match against already-qualified FINAL4 participant Kielce, which ended in a 30:30 draw.

Kiel on the other hand, lost several away matches against quarter-finalists throughout the group phase, including Paris, Flensburg, Veszprem and Zagreb, and were close to elimination after losing at Szeged in the Last 16 phase.

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg