Colleagues in the swimming-pool, rivals on courtArticle
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FACE TO FACE: Filip Jicha and Niklas Landin met for rehab at THW Kiel before the Czech departed for Barcelona, and now only one of them will make it to Cologne.

Colleagues in the swimming-pool, rivals on court

Officially they were part of the same team for nearly two months, but Filip Jicha and Niklas Landin did not have a single handball training session together at THW Kiel.

When Landin arrived from Rhein-Neckar Löwen, Jicha was injured. Landin was also injured, which meant the pair only met in the swimming pool for rehabilitation.

“Funny enough, we had exactly the same injury – an inflammation of the pubic joint – and we shared the underwater sessions,” says the Danish goalkeeper.

On the very day Landin had recovered and was ready for his first official match for his new club – the German Super Cup against Flensburg at the end of August 2015 – Kiel announced Jicha’s transfer to FC Barcelona, where the Czech international signed a three-year contract.

“So we did not wear the same jersey for a single match,” Landin laughs, adding: “I only know Filip as an opponent.”

New jerseys, old rivals

After several duels when Jicha was part of the THW squad facing Landin in the Löwen goal, the world-class players will clash for the first time in their new jerseys.

Landin’s saves were one key for Kiel’s surprisingly clear 29:24 win in the first leg of the VELUX EHF Champions League Quarter-final.

On Saturday, the Match of the Week at the ‘handball cathedral’ Palau Blaugrana will decide whether it will be Barcelona or Kiel that will take to the court at the seventh VELUX EHF FINAL4 in Cologne.

“Due to our long list of injuries we never expected a result like this. We had hoped for a victory, but five goals are a great margin,” says Landin about the first leg.

For Barcelona the pressure is on: “We were far below par in this crucial match at Kiel, especially me,” says Jicha.

“It was a very emotional match, as I had played eight years for THW. I had so many memories in my head – and finally I was fully disappointed with my performance.”


“THW still has a huge place in my heart”

Before the first-leg quarter-final, Jicha met with friends in Kiel.

“I even visited the club office to say hello and I got the official gift, which you receive when you leave the club,” the 2010 World Handball Player of the Year says, continuing to describe how he was positively surprised by the reception he received at his former club.

“It is normal in sport that some fans whistle against you when you arrive with a new club, but I had intensely explained the reasons why I left Kiel and joined Barcelona, and all at Kiel know that THW still has a huge place in my heart.”

But for another 60 minutes, this place in his heart will be forgotten.

“I know Kiel coach Alfred Gislason very well. His tactics to take all the pressure from his team and to put the favourite role on Barcelona worked well. He will do exactly the same in the second leg,” says Jicha, who still believes in a 50:50 chance to proceed to the FINAL4.

“Those are the matches you train for and dream of”

Jicha has already played five times at the FINAL4, including winning the Champions League trophy twice in 2010 and 2012 with Kiel, but Landin has not yet made it to the court in LANXESS Arena.

“I was there as a spectator, but it is one of my biggest dreams to be part of the event as a player,” says Landin, though he and his teammates do not think only of the FINAL4 as motivation prior to the match at Palau Blaugrana. “We only think about Barcelona, not Cologne.”

Landin has a special relationship with Palau Blaugrana. Two years ago, he had one of the darkest hours in his club career there: With Löwen he arrived with a seven-goal advantage from the first leg of the quarter-final (38:31), only to leave the arena empty-handed after a 24:31 defeat in the return fixture. Barcelona proceeded to Cologne, Löwen were out.

“Two years are a long time in handball, so I do not have this match in my mind when we travel to Barcelona. It is a completely new situation now, with a new club. When I enter the court I only think about the present, not the past,” the two-time World Championship runner-up and EHF EURO 2014 silver medallist says.

Jicha’s situation is different: “We know that we can play much better than we did in Kiel, but those five goals are a huge burden. Cologne seems to be quite far away as Kiel are incredibly strong, but we need to profit from the home advantage and will run and fight until the last breath to book the ticket to Cologne.”

Jicha saw the 2014 Barcelona vs Löwen match where Landin and his team were eliminated on TV: “This was an extraordinary performance, but you cannot deliver a match like this every day – though we know that we exactly need 60 minutes like those on Saturday to repair our failure.”

Jicha and Landin both believe that the decision will be made only in the final minutes, maybe only in the last attack, as happened on Wednesday in Kielce when Flensburg were knocked out.

“Those are the matches you train for and dream of,” both the left back and keeper agree.

But only one will be part of the VELUX EHF FINAL4.

TEXT: Bjorn Pazen / cg