Spectacular Szmal steers Kielce to a maiden finalArticle
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SEMI-FINAL REVIEW: Incredible team performance and goalkeeper Szmal end PSG’s dream of going all the way

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Spectacular Szmal steers Kielce to a maiden final

Despite 16 saves of goalkeeper Thierry Omeyer and ten goals of Mikkel Hansen, the VELUX EHF FINAL4 debutants PSG missed the final, while on the other hand, the other goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal led his team of Vive Tauron Kielce to the final with 14 saves. The match was a true and combative thriller for 60 minutes.

For the first time in the history of the EHF Champions League (since 1993) a team from Poland had made it to the final: The yellow wall on the stands and the court jumped for joy after beating the favoured side of Paris Saint-Germain in the first semi-final of the 2016 edition of the VELUX EHF FINAL4 on Saturday.

VELUX EHF FINAL4 - semi-final 1:

KS Vive Tauron Kielce (POL) vs Paris Saint-Germain Handball (FRA) 28:26 (16:16)
Official match report

After 30 minutes, Hansen (now 131 goals in total) had already netted in nine times – being the strongest back court weapon of the newly crowned French champions. Despite an early 6:3 advance after ten minutes, Paris could not manage to cast off Kielce. Boosted by their yellow dressed frenetic fans and the saves of goalkeeper Slawomir Szmal, the Polish side caught up. Though the first half was fully equal, Kielce could not take the lead in an initially tough battle.

After an impressive opening show, in which the Champions League legends Marcin Lijewski, Iker Romero, Stefan Lövgren and Lars Christiansen brought the trophy to the arena, PSG’s Croatian line player Igor Vori scored the first VELUX EHF FINAL4. The combative fight on both sides was underlined by the facts that after three minutes already two players had received suspension and Kielce’s left back already needed to change his jersey.

With a strong performance of four times EHF Champions league winner Thierry Omeyer and the hammer shots of unstoppable Hansen, PSG were the stronger side, but thank to their efficient defence and a strong team performance Kielce returned quickly. And right before the halftime buzzer they had the chance for their first lead, but missed – so it took until the first attack in the second half, when the score was 17:16 for Vive.

With goalkeeper veteran Szmal still on fire and Paris lacking ideas in attack despite a huge number of one-man-advantages took more and more the control of the game. Paris needed nearly nine minutes to score their first goal after the break – and could be lucky that they were only down by one that time, as Omeyer had shut up his shop.

From that moment on, PSG were back in the match again though sniper Hansen missed several shot and thus got his time on the bench, but others like Ukrainian right back Sergiy Onufriyenko jumped in.

With five minutes on the clock, the tension rose to extremes again, when the score was 24:24. Still Hansen was on the bench, Nikola Karabatic out of form and the duo Omeyer/Szmal in the spotlight. 

"He [Hansen] couldn’t get into his preferred throwing position at nine metres today due to the good defence by Kielce. So I decided to go more with the guys who are better in one-to-one situations, and this is not really Mikkel’s strength," said PSG coach Noka Serdarusic regarding his attacking tactics. 

"We even did this in the training the past few days, on a daily basis, and I just thought this could be the right tactics for playing against Kielce."

When Mateusz Kus had to finish the match on the tribune after his third suspension, Kielce had to face their already ninth period of one man down.

But the Polish side had been anything but shocked: Two and a half minutes before the end, Michal Jurecki hammered in for his individual fifth time to bring his team ahead by 26:24, forcing Serdarusic to take his final time-out.

But finally Paris also lost a player, as after the first instant replay decision the German referees Geipel/Helbig sent Vori off with a direct red card after he had hit Tobias Reichmann with the elbow. And right when Vori had left the court, Croatian wing Manuel Strlek decided the match with the 28:25.

"Our system is always that we play 15 minutes each on the wing positions," said Reichmann. "We have a really good team with 14 to 16 players. That's maybe why in the end we had more power and could win that game. We definitely deserved that win."

TEXT: Björn Pazen