Close friends in the heat of the battle of giantsArticle
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FACE-TO-FACE: Two great buddies, Domagoj Duvnjak and Aron Palmarsson will find themselves in the middle of a historic rivalry in the semi-final of Kiel-Veszprém.

Close friends in the heat of the battle of giants

Kiel vs Veszprém. One of the classic encounters of the long and prestigious history of Europe’s elite competition. So many memories, last second drama and world class talents, who shaped this rivalry to what it is now: a battle of giants. Among those talents are Domagoj Duvnjak and Aron Palmarsson, two close friends off the field, who will become bitter rivals in the second semi-final of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 on Saturday.

No favourites here

“We are nearing the end of the season with so many ups and downs, so I have to disagree with any claim we’re the favourites,” claimed Domagoj Duvnjak, whose Kiel team have all their cards on the FINAL4 as the German Cup and championship are no longer in their reach.

“We have lost our most recent Bundesliga match (30:29 against Melsungen) and it may have been, because our minds are already at the FINAL4, but I have to admit, this may be the first season Kiel are not among the forerunners.”

It is different with Veszprem, who, albeit after a desperate fight, managed to hold on to their Hungarian crown against Pick Szeged.

“I talked about it with my teammates and everybody said it is better to go to Cologne with warm muscles. Two years ago they went to the FINAL4 after two off weeks and they failed to win a game in Cologne. Szeged made us work very hard for both the Cup and the championship so we are all in good shape now,” said Aron Palmarsson.

“Some people say we are favourites this year but I believe these four teams are the strongest ones in the competition so it’s impossible to pick a favourite. It feels good to be recognised but that’s all” – added the Iceland international.

Season full of ups and downs

Duvnjak knows just how important it is for Kiel to finish the season with a trophy. “Our campaign was full of issues, from squad changes to injuries, and then some.

I think we constantly were three or four players short for the better part of the season. And we certainly didn’t make it any easier for ourselves along the road (to the FINAL4) by finishing fourth in the group. This may be the odd season when Kiel might finish without a single trophy. It is fair to say all our cards are on the FINAL4. In that regard, I agree that we have somehow managed to play our best handball when it mattered the most.”

“We had a fair share of difficulties ourselves, too, but just like Kiel we caught the rhythm just in time to seal our place in the Final4. It was a long and difficult season with the injuries, coach changes and it obviously took time for us, new players to find our way in the system but when we finally did we started to play as true contenders,” said Palmarsson.

The rivalry

“When you think of Kiel against Veszprem, you instantly think of a great match. It would be our third clash this season, after each team won at home. But it has to be said, they are a magnificent team. An excellent concept, and are playing the most convincing, consistent handball of all teams in the Champions League this season.” said Duvnjak.

“Kiel is obviously a force to be reckoned with. I keep in touch with some of my ex-teammates and I know for sure that a troubled season does not mean they will not fight like lions. They play their trademark game, they are extremely solid in defence and if you let them run you are doomed,” added Palmarsson.

“I don’t think any of the teams can surprise their opponents, we just know each other too well for that. But clashes like this are decided in the heat of the moment and I am really looking forward to lock horns with the German giants.”

Back to Duvnjak: “Veszprem are more than just world-class individuals. Yes the first impression is, with so many top players, you don’t know who to guard first, but they are even more than that. They’re able to play a mean 6:0 defence, and pose threat all over the court.

Palmarsson vs Duvnjak

Two really good friends meet in the semi-final, who never lost contact even though they play for different teams now.

“He is such an extraordinary talent. We’re in contact very often and go way back. We’ve met many times in our careers. We came to the Bundesliga at about the same time, and I feel connected to him. He is a magnificent person, as much as he is a player,” Duvnjak said about his counterpart.

“He is a true friend to me, no wonder we speak on the phone every time we have the chance. So it is not only about having been teammates, he is someone I felt we were always on the same page,” Palmarsson told about his ex-teammate.

“I feel Palmarsson can do just about anything on the court. He has the ability to do the impossible, and that’s why I can’t single out any particular quality of his. He’s got it all! Everything he does on the court seems so effortlessly easy. He performs moves with such ease, like he never tires himself,” claimed Duvnjak.

“Kiel are full of clutch players but Domagoj is certainly one of the best. He has had an outstanding season and became a focal point for Kiel’s game.  I think it is safe to say that he is the hardest player to cover from this Kiel team.”

Exchanging skills? Yes, please!

When asked if there was a skill of his opponent he would like to have Duvnjak put it simple. “If I were to take something from him and make it a part of my game – it would be everything! He is simply that good.”

Palmarsson needed time to think it over but finally came up with an answer.

“That guy is plain awesome. He is great in all aspects of the game but there is one thing I really like about him. The way and the speed he takes the ball forward is amazing. The pace of transition is breathtaking and he is excellent in catching defences off guard. When he bursts into your area you just don’t know if he is going to shoot, pass, dribble... good luck stopping him!”

How about winning the title?

“It is not about Duvnjak and Palmarsson. The two excellent teams who are eager to fight and do their best, and we’re just a part of that. However, to win the FINAL4 you need not the best individuals. You need to have the team and two perfect days. Two days, when you get every single thing right, to the smallest detail. That is exactly what we had with Hamburg in 2013,” said Duvnjak.

“I know how much our fans, and as a matter of fact, this entire country wants this trophy and we are prepared to give our all for it. To lift the trophy you need strength, stamina, tactics and a fair amount of luck, too, so it is impossible to tell now who will win.

"It is not always the best teams that win, but the ones who are the best in that weekend,” concluded Palmarsson.

TEXT: Bence Martha, Nemanja Savic / br